SANParks chopper crashed because crucial lever ‘shot up’ as pilot lowered radio volume: report

The SA Civil Aviation Authority has released a preliminary report detailing how the SANParks' Airbus AS350B-3+ (Squirrel) helicopter crashed after the pilot lost control during take off from Cape Town International Airport in January.
The SA Civil Aviation Authority has released a preliminary report detailing how the SANParks' Airbus AS350B-3+ (Squirrel) helicopter crashed after the pilot lost control during take off from Cape Town International Airport in January.
Image: Supplied

The pilot who crashed a SANParks helicopter at Cape Town International Airport on January 2 momentarily took his hand off the collective lever to lower the volume of the radio.

The collective lever - which is responsible for up and down movements of the helicopter - suddenly shot up, causing the pilot to lose control.

This is according to a preliminary SA Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) report. The Sacaa said the report was compiled in the interests of aviation safety, and not to apportion blame or liability.

According to the authority's Accident and Incident Investigations Division (AIID) findings, the AS350 B3 helicopter crashed while the pilot was on the ground at the airport waiting for take-off clearance. The incident occurred at 5am and was reported to the AIID 30 minutes later.

“The pilot said he completed the engine start-up checks with the engine on idle and the collective lever down and locked,” the report said.

The pilot then tested the hydraulics by moving the master hydraulic switch on the collective pitch lever to the “off” position, tested for movement and then moved the switch back to the “on” position.

The pilot said he moved the throttle to flight position and carried out all the pre-take-off checks, and all was good. He then depressed the collective lever to release the mechanical lock and was ready for lift-off.

“While waiting for tower to grant take-off clearance, he momentarily removed his hand from the collective lever to lower the volume on the radio. The collective [lever] immediately shot up to its maximum lift and, together with the cyclic, became stiff and difficult to control.

“The pilot did not hear any audible warning or see any warning light illuminating on the panel. The helicopter lifted off the ground to approximately 30 feet above ground level and began to yaw to the left with a slight right roll and a forward pitch,” the report states.

The pilot attempted to stop the yaw by using the pedals, but this was ineffective.

“The helicopter continued to yaw through two full left turns while pitching forward with a slight roll to the right,” the report said.

The helicopter caught fire after impact, damaging only the engine section of the helicopter.
SA Civil Aviation Authority report

The main rotor blades hit the ground and the pilot lowered the collective fully down.

“The right-side skid impacted the ground and a dynamic rollover ensued, with the helicopter coming to rest on its right side. A post-impact fire ensued in the engine compartment and the pilot shut down the engine and disembarked the helicopter unaided.”

The report said firefighters responded to the scene shortly thereafter and extinguished the fire.

The AIID said the accident was considered survivable due to the helicopter being at hover height and slow speed before impact.

“The pilot was wearing a safety harness during the accident. The helicopter caught fire after impact, damaging only the engine section of the helicopter,” the report reads.

Sacaa said the AIID investigation was ongoing and the investigator would be looking into other aspects of this incident, which may or may not have safety implications.

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