Last month the Australian Transport Safety Board (ATSB) published its report of a Dec. 24, 2011, helicopter rescue that went wrong after the crew attempted to improvise in a mission to save a man where no other options appeared suitable.
The crew of an AgustaWestland AW139 departed Bankstown Airport 13.5 miles southwest of Sydney to rescue a person trapped on a rock ledge near the bottom of a waterfall in the Budderoo National Park. Once on the scene and with darkness approaching, the crew determined it would be impossible for a standard winch rescue and the pilot landed in a nearby clearing to devise an alternative.
During the subsequent rescue effort, the patient and the paramedic were accidentally pulled off a rock ledge by the winch cable and struck rocks beneath them at the base of the waterfall. The paramedic died on the scene; the patient was transported to a local hospital.
In the aftermath of the ATSB investigation, the helicopter’s operator modified procedures that identify the extent to which a crew is allowed to proceed in a rescue attempt in the face of unknown circumstances, and require rescue personnel to conduct annual nighttime winch training.