AVIATION safety officials have again baulked at grounding a popular type of helicopter with a known fire risk, despite investigating another crash in which two people were burnt alive.
The latest investigation involves the crash of another Robinson R44 helicopter, which is widely used by joy flight and charter operators. The investigation again highlights a known problem with its fuel tank design that allows petrol to spill out on impact or if the aircraft tips over. Yet a recommended fuel tank modification kit to cut the risk of fire remains in scarce supply, and no safety regulator has made it compulsory.
The drama aboard the Robinson R44 began when a lock-nut holding flight control linkages together broke soon after take-off from Cessnock Aerodrome in New South Wales on February 4 last year, rendering the chopper uncontrollable. A flying instructor wrestled the controls but the helicopter banked sharply, hit the runway, tipped on its side, and burst into flames. One pilot on board managed to scramble out of the wreckage but the injured instructor and a passenger trapped inside were incinerated. ”Fatal injuries sustained … were due to the post-impact fire,” investigators said.