AN investigation into the circumstances surrounding a helicopter rolling over on a Kerry beach has found that the pilot was momentarily distracted when his mobile phone rang at the same time as a gust of wind hit the side of the chopper.
The incident occurred on Carrahane Strand, close to Banna, on 16 July last and although the pilot – who was alone on board – escaped without injury, substantial damage was caused to the Enstrom 280FX helicopter.
The 72-year-old pilot had 749 hours of flying experience, of which 50 were in that type of aircraft.
A report by the Air Accidents Investigations Unit – part of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport – stated that the pilot was carrying out practice exercises near the strand and decided to land for a break. The lagoon landing surface was soft and wet and the skids of the 28-year-old helicopter had touched down slightly prior to it rolling over on to its left-hand side.
“The helicopter was substantially damaged. The pilot was uninjured,” the report stresses.
The tail rotor and mast, rotor gearbox and vertical and horizontal stabilisers were damaged in the incident and the report said it was likely the engine also suffered shock loading damage.
Due to the tidal location of the accident site and the fact that the incoming tide could have led to the total loss of the vehicle, the pilot organised the recovery of the helicopter prior to notifying the AAIU. The rotor blades were cut off to facilitate that recovery.
The official report states: “When the helicopter was touching the ground but still light on the skids, the pilot’s mobile phone rang. He glanced at the telephone which was mounted on a bracket inside the instrument panel in order to identify the caller.
“The pilot reported that, at the same time as this momentary distraction, a gust of wind from the west hit the right-hand side of the helicopter. The helicopter rolled on to its left-hand side causing significant damage.”
Two AAIU officers, who automatically conduct investigations following incidents involving aircraft, visited the site, inspected the helicopter and interviewed the pilot.
In a comment on the case, the AAIU said landing a helicopter is a critical phase of flight when circumstances can change rapidly. Any distraction can contribute to an upset unless a prompt intervention is initiated.
“Many pilots now carry portable electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets (and) GPS units in the cockpit; all of which may provide useful functions but are also a potential source of distraction,” the report stated.
The report did not contain any safety recommendations.
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