Dark Night Flight Proves Fatal
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s final report on the 2011 crash of a Eurocopter AS355F2 cites spatial disorientation as one of the reasons the pilot lost control of the helicopter and crashed into terrain, killing all three people aboard. The helicopter was being operated under visual flight rules in an area east of Lake Eyre in South Australia, the lowest point in the country at 50 feet below sea level.
At approximately 7 p.m. local time, the pilot departed an island in the Cooper Creek inlet with two film crew on board for a 30-minute flight to a planned overnight stop. The flight departed after sunset, and although there was no low cloud or rain it was a dark night with no moon.
The pilot initially entered the stopover point incorrectly into the helicopter’s GPS, which increased his workload once he recognized his mistake. The helicopter leveled at 1,500 feet and shortly after entered a gentle right turn and began a descent. The turn tightened and the descent rate increased until, 38 seconds after the descent began, the helicopter hit the terrain at high speed and a 90-degree bank angle.
Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s lack of recent night and instrument experience and the aircraft’s lack of an autopilot.