A ROLLESTON grazier’s eagerness to take to the skies in his new helicopter and muster stock was discouraged by his flight instructor as not a “good idea”.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has found Russell Parker, killed in a chopper crash last November, had not met the competency standards to fly solo and was not trained in low-flying or aerial stock mustering.
The married father of four young girls, aged 39, was a student pilot when he took off in his Robinson 22 chopper to muster stock on Mt Ogg, 44km west-south-west of Rolleston.
About 11am, he contacted workers on horseback to tell them he had located some cattle.
One of the stockmen talked with Mr Parker over the radio at 11.15am. Five minutes later, there was no response to a follow-up call.
At 11.30am, the wreckage was found in a heavily timbered valley at an elevation of 548 metres, where old growth forest trees towered above the ground at heights up to 45 metres.
Mr Parker, described by his mother Cecilia as “a bit of a legend… loved by everyone”, was fatally injured.
A post-mortem found no evidence of any adverse medical condition. Toxicological testing for drugs and alcohol was negative.
“The impact mark, forward bending and chord-wise creasing on the main rotor blades, was consistent with the rotor system contacting at least one tree,” the ATSB report found.
“The level of disruption to the main rotor blades as a result of contacting foliage would have significantly reduced the effective lift from the main rotor system, resulting in uncontrolled descent into the terrain.
“The weather at the time was benign, with good visibility.
“While the exact reasons the aircraft hit the tree were not clear, it is notable that the aircraft was being used at low level for a mustering task by a pilot with limited experience, without the requisite low level qualifications and approvals for the solo flight by an authorised flight instructor.
“Without those… it could not be reasonably expected the pilot had the skills necessary to perform the task.
“According to the pilot’s training file, he had fallen behind the anticipated standard during his training and not progressed beyond an SPL level.
“Comments in the training file stated that the pilot wanted to start mustering as soon as possible, but was advised by his instructor that, at that stage, this was not a ‘good idea’.”
Sadly, Mr Parker had only logged 4.2 solo flight hours from a total of 43.7 flight hours, well short of the hours required. His last recorded training flight was September 22, 2010. He had bought the helicopter in June.
There have been more than 70 accidents involving student pilots in the last decade, including nine involving helicopters, according to ATSB records.
However Mr Parker’s case of a student pilot undertaking aerial mustering or a specific task well beyond their skill level and training was a first.
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