• R44 VH-KCH, which was involved in a crash near Mansfield, Victoria, in July 2019. (Wikimedia Commons / Robert Frola)
    R44 VH-KCH, which was involved in a crash near Mansfield, Victoria, in July 2019. (Wikimedia Commons / Robert Frola)

An ATSB investigation into the crash of a Robinson R44 helicopter in July this year has highlighted the lack of readily available electricity network maps for pilots in Victoria, as well as the powerlines’ lack of aircraft markers.

R44 VH-KCH crashed south of Mansfield and striking a powerline on take-off from a private property on 6 July. The pilot and passenger were injured and the aircraft substantially damaged.

The powerline did not carry markers, nor was it required to.

"Powerlines at significant heights above the ground can be expected in valleys as they are often strung across them to use the terrain to reduce the number of poles and the need to clear vegetation below the wires," the ATSB report states.

"However, the pilot reported that he did not expect any powerline at a height of more than 150 ft above the ground. The pole on the hill was visible from the take-off site, but the pilot did not see it. Nor did he see (or expect) the powerline wires, which are inherently difficult to sight and had no markers to increase their visibility.

"Consequently, as the pilot conducted a shallow departure climb down the valley the helicopter struck the powerline about 400 m from the take-off site."

The ATSB also found that maps of powerlines are not readily available in Victoria as they are in some other states, which restricted the information the pilot could use to plan the departure.

"In Victoria, electricity network information is not readily available to aid pilots during the flight-planning process,” ATSB Director Transport Safety Stuart Macleod said.

“Such information provides valuable safety information to aid pilots in planning flights, and assists the visual identification of hazards, such as wires and poles.”

Phil Hurst, CEO of the Aerial Application Association of Australia (AAAA) believes the ATSB findings have significance in other low-level operations as well.

"For the first time, ATSB has made a direct link between the marking of powerlines, availability of network mapping – and improving aviation safety," Hurst said.

"The report makes the point that powerline network mapping is not available in Victoria (or any states other than NSW and Qld).

 "While this accident was a private aviation operation, the significance of this report for aerial application safety–including firebombing–is obvious. 

"If all state electricity regulators and power companies took the same safety-based approach as Qld and NSW already have (voluntarily because of their clear safety culture), this would make a very real and practical improvement in low-level aviation safety for very little cost."

"There are also a number of spin-off benefits of marking powerlines–especially for farmers–who can make their farms safer for trucks and other tall machinery such as headers and cotton pickers as well as aerial contractors.

The full report is on the ATSB website.

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