Safety, Training

Investigators: Pilot ‘Fit to Fly’ in 2015 Fatal R44 Mast Bump in New Zealand

By S.L. Fuller | July 21, 2017

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Robinson R44. File photo

The original findings in the Transport Accident Investigation Commission of New Zealand’s final report for a 2015 mast-bumping incident remains final, despite the introduction of new evidence, the commission said. Upon re-evaluation, the commission ruled out pilot health issues as a cause of the Robinson Helicopter Co. R44 crash.

“The commission concluded that it is very unlikely that any medical factor contributed to the accident. As a result, no changes were made to the original findings in the published report,” the commission said. “The commission made a further finding: that it is very likely that the instructor was medically fit to fly when his most recent medical certificate was issued.”

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Another finding upon re-evaluation was that there are “too many” loopholes that holders of aviation documents can use to get around the civil aviation process of disallowing medically unfit pilots to fly.

Commission recommendations based on the findings are that:

“The Director of Civil Aviation improve the mechanisms for informing medical practitioners of the requirement to report to the Civil Aviation Authority; and that he review the medical application process to ensure that it is more robust in identifying potentially serious health issues with pilots and other aviation document holders."

The report further lists recommendations for the Ministry of Health to add a list of functions to the national electronic health record database.

  • "That a person’s occupation be added to the record to allow monitoring of individuals in safety-critical occupations who have potentially adverse health conditions or medications, so that the appropriate authority can be alerted to possible public safety risks."
  • "A mechanism to draw the attention of all health practitioners to their obligation to notify the appropriate authority when a person or patient has a health condition or need for medication that could pose a threat to public safety in that individual’s occupation."

Feb. 19, 2015, an R44 was returning to Queenstown from a training flight when a mast bump caused a crash, the commission said. The instructor and student both died. The commission could not conclusively determine what caused the mast bump, and the final report was published Aug. 25, 2016. New evidence was brought to the commission’s attention Aug. 31, 2016, concerning the mental health of the instructor in 2014. The inquiry to evaluate the new evidence was resumed Sept. 28, 2016.

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