Crash pilot was racing to meet time target

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 May, 2006, 12:00am

Concern over speed of response may have contributed to fatal 2003 helicopter accident, probe finds

Two crew members killed in a Government Flying Service helicopter were racing to meet a target response time when they crashed into a hillside on Lantau in low visibility, an investigation into the accident has revealed.

Pilot Pang Fu-kwok, 34, and crewman Dickson Chan Man-tik, 31, were killed when their helicopter crashed into a hill on the Tung Chung Pass on August 26, 2003.

The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) report into the accident, released yesterday, said the pilot's wife told investigators her husband had been concerned about keeping performance pledges to attend casualty evacuation scenes within 20 minutes.

The day before the accident, Pang had abandoned an attempt to cross Lantau Island via the Tung Chung Pass and had gone through the Silvermine Pass instead, thus failing to meet the target time.

The report stated that this failure may have been playing on his mind because he discussed it with a colleague on the way to work and mentioned to GFS air traffic controllers just 90 seconds before the crash that the chances of meeting the target were 'marginal'.

Last night, Calvin Shum Chi-wai, GFS manager of operations, said there were no plans to amend the performance pledges, adding that pilots were never penalised or criticised for failing to meet target times, which were a 'management tool to gauge our performance'.

The accident happened three minutes after the helicopter left Chek Lap Kok airport at 10.28pm to take a patient from Cheung Chau to Queen Mary Hospital on Hong Kong Island.

CAD investigators found no evidence that the helicopter malfunctioned or that the pilot was suffering from long-term fatigue, but the report did suggest that Pang may have been 'insufficiently rested' and that this 'may have impaired his reasoning power and decision-making capabilities'.

The report said weather and visibility conditions in the Tung Chung Pass were below the GFS's minimum standards for flying, and the helicopter was too low and flying too fast in those conditions.

It said the crew might have survived if they had been wearing helmets and if the crewman had been properly strapped into his seat instead of wearing just a 'monkey harness', which allows movement inside the helicopter.

Since the accident, the GFS no longer flies along the Tung Chung Pass at night. It is now mandatory for crew to wear helmets and for crewmen to be strapped into their seats if they are not required for lookout duties or to assist injured passengers.

The GFS has also changed its shift times so there is a staff overlap to ensure that crew members have time to carry out pre-flight checks and duties before being called out on emergency response missions.

About 30 other recommendations laid out in the report would be 'put in place as swiftly as possible', a GFS spokesman said.