Spatial disorientation likely caused fatal 2011 R44 crash in Canada

Spatial disorientation likely caused fatal 2011 R44 crash in Canada

29-Sep-2013 Source: TSB Canada

A helicopter pilot who took off more than an hour after sunset  likely crashed after becoming spatially disoriented, according to an investigation report (A11Q0168) released today by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB). The accident, which occurred on 27 August 2011, killed the pilot and the three other occupants shortly after takeoff. All had been flying in a privately owned Robinson R44 Raven II, on a flight fromSaint-Ferdinand, Quebec, bound for Saint-Nicolas.

The helicopter was destroyed on impact but did not catch fire.

According to the TSB, the aerodrome was not equipped with a lighting system, and the pilot would have had few visual references outside the helicopter, and thus been left vulnerable to various night-flying illusions. Statistics show that spatial disorientation accounts for between 5 and 10% of all general aviation accidents, 90% of which are fatal. The report also questioned whether the minimum requirements for private helicopter pilots to obtain a night rating are sufficient to educate pilots and demonstrate the risks involved, including visual illusions that could lead to spatial disorientation.

The TSB report also addressed the problem of inaccurate or missing information in the emergency beacon registry, noting that this can sometimes hamper search and rescue efforts. Although this was not cited as a contributing factor in this occurrence, the Canadian Beacon Registry sent a letter to beacon owners, asking them to review and correct emergency contact information.

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

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