What pilot said moments before fatal crash
THE Queensland helicopter pilot killed alongside his four passengers had spoken to an air traffic controller about having hit turbulence minutes before making a sudden left turn out to sea and plummeting into the ocean.
A preliminary report released this morning into the crash by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has given a glimpse into the last known moments of the September 6 crash off the New South Wales coast.
David Kerr and Queensland mates Jamie Ogden and Grant Kuhnemann were killed in the crash, along with Sydney couple Jocelyn Villanueva and Gregory Miller.
The five were headed from Archerfield Airport in Queensland to Bankstown Airport in Sydney when they faded off the radar at about 6.15pm after hitting trouble near Williamtown.
They had refuelled at Coffs Harbour before taking off at 4.48pm, flying on into strong winds whipped up by a cold front and continued on in fading light.
An air traffic controller contacted pilot David Kerr about 6.05pm as he flew near Williamtown after noticing his altitude had dropped to 2700 feet.
Mr Kerr acknowledged the altitude drop, according to the report, "commenting on a sudden wind gust affecting the helicopter's altitude".
Clearance was given for the restored Vietnam War-era Bell UH-1H helicopter, known as a Huey, to climb to between 2400-3500 feet.
Mr Kerr also "commented on the turbulent conditions" being experienced, according to the report and the air traffic controller made a further offer to provide help.
The Huey was then seen on the Williamtown Air Traffic Control radar making a left turn to the south, departing from the coastal transit land he was using to head offshore.
It continued to track offshore to the southwest for about one minute and twenty seconds, keeping at a height between 3000-3600 feet, before "commencing a rapidly descending left turn."
It then plummeted into the ocean from about 3400 feet.
As revealed by The Courier-Mail last month the Huey was certified in mid-October last year for day-flying only and was not equipped for night flying, meaning the helicopter should have planned to have landed 10 minutes before "last light."
Instead, it was hit trouble about 13 minutes after last light and still had another 40 minutes of flying before reaching Bankstown Airport.
The ATSB preliminary report confirmed Mr Kerr was qualified to fly by day under Visual Flight Rules.
His logbook indicated he had 1440 hours of flying experience and had a valid licence at the time of the crash.
The weather forecast for the Williamtown area the day of the crash included moderate to severe turbulence and wind gusts of up to 38 knots for the northwest, according to the ATSB report.
From 6pm that day, severe turbulence was forecast with wind gusts of up to 45 knots and layers of scattered clout at 4000 feet.
It also forecast broken cloud at 12,000 feet about ground level and light showers of rain. Visibility was noted to be about 6-7km around the time of the crash.
Last light for the Anna Bay area was calculated at about 6.01pm, but "the presence of cloud cover, dust or masking terrain to the west would have resulted in last light occurring at an earlier time," according to the report.
Poor weather hampered the search in the weeks following the crash. A large section of the helicopter tail boom was retrieved.
The ATSB today issued a statement highlighting the actions pilots should take to avoid a weather or low-visibility related crash in the wake of both the crash of Mr Kerr's Huey and the death of a father and son in a air crash on September 20 near Coffs Harbour.
"Both accidents are unrelated, but in both instances the flights were operating under visual flight rules, and neither pilot had qualifications to operate in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) or at night, the preliminary reports establish," an ATSB spokesman said.
"Further, both investigations will continue to look at the weather and environmental conditions at the time of the accidents, among a number of other factors."
A final report is still to be released.