Commercial, Safety

New Zealand Tour Operator Reviewing SMS After 2016 Crash

By Amy Kluber | April 13, 2018

Helicopter Line New Zealand Crash

Photo courtesy of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission

A New Zealand sightseeing helicopter operator is reviewing its safety protocols amid the nation's accident investigation board's release of a final report of the company's 2016 crash — the fourth crash for the company in three years.

According to the Transport Accident Investigation Commission report released Thursday, The Helicopter Line's Airbus Helicopters AS350-B2 transporting five passengers for a snow-landing experience Sept. 12, 2016, collided with terrain upon landing on Mount Sale, about 14 miles northeast of Queensland.

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When the pilot approached the landing site, the rate of descent suddenly increased, so he "increased the power to go around," the report said. That's when the helicopter struck the ground with the landing gear and the main rotor blades, and rolled onto its left side.

One of the passengers suffered a laceration to his knee. All were transported to the hospital.

The investigation board found that the pilot "very likely made" a downwind approach to land, when expecting a crosswind. The board also found that the pilot flew the approach at a "relative high, speed, low and close to the landing site," resulting in a "tight turn to a short final approach, which did not allow [the pilot] time to confirm the anticipated wind." Further, the board said, "the pilot did not conform with the operator’s stated principle of conducting constant attitude approaches."

The report notes that the September 2016 crash was the company's fourth serious landing accidents in three years. Because of this, the commission recommended that the company review its safety management system (SMS) process.

According to the report, company CEO Lois Hutchinson said it would seek SMS certification in 2019. Hutchinson said the company has already implemented some SMS elements, including attending related seminars and receiving educational material from the Civil Aviation Authority. Further, she said, the company's operational personnel had received online human factors training in January 2017, and a consultant developed a program for the operation.

The other crashes the board refers to occurred in 2013 when two of the company's helicopters collided on a snowfield, in twice in 2014 when helicopters in each incident struck terrain and rolled onto their sides.

There are 12 helicopters registered to the company, including nine Airbus AS350-B2 Ecureuils, an AS350-BA Ecureuil, an AS350D AStar and a Bell 206B-2 Jet Ranger.

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