Bird strike could be to blame for helicopter's harbour plunge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 July, 2010, 12:00am

A bird strike might be one issue investigators will look into when they investigate the emergency landing of a Macau-bound helicopter in Victoria Harbour on Saturday.

And the Civil Aviation Department said the operator of the helicopter service had provided sufficient life jackets for those on board, after claims there were not enough.

The department said 14 life jackets were in the aircraft. It is believed some passengers panicked and could not find life jackets.

The crash into the sea happened about noon on Saturday when the helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in the harbour shortly after it took off from the Sheung Wan helipad due to 'technical difficulties'.

The 11 passengers and two pilots on the 15-seat helicopter were rescued from the harbour. No serious injuries were reported.

The department is investigating the incident in co-ordination with authorities in Macau, where the helicopter was registered, and the AgustaWestland AW139's Italian manufacturer.

The helicopter was transported to a depot at Chek Lap Kok airport for inspection after it was salvaged from the sea and put on a barge overnight. Some components of the aircraft were disassembled yesterday. There had been claims there were not enough life jackets on the helicopter, according to newspaper reports quoting a passenger who had been unable to find one.

Media reports also said a bird strike could have caused the accident, quoting witnesses saying they had seen birds flying near the helicopter shortly before the accident occurred.

A department spokeswoman yesterday said an investigation was under way and it was too early to speculate about causes. She said investigators had found 14 life jackets 'so, it seems there were enough life jackets on board for the 13 people.'

Lo Wai-yan, of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, said: 'I am not really sure if a bird strike could be a cause. Eagles can sometimes be seen hovering over the harbour. But they should be able to avoid colliding with a helicopter, especially when the aircraft has just taken off and the speed might not be very high.'

The helicopter came into service last year. Its owner, Sky Shuttle, was ordered to suspend its helicopter service until safety checks are completed on the five other aircraft of the same model that it owns.

Sky Shuttle's ticket counters at the Macau ferry terminal in Sheung Wan remained closed yesterday. But there was no notice about the suspension of service or Saturday's accident. A duty officer at the company's customer service telephone hotline said it was unknown how much longer services would be suspended.

One traveller returning from Macau yesterday said she was not worried by the accident because she would not travel to the city by air. 'It is too expensive. It is for rich people only. Us ordinary travellers usually take the ferry,' Jane Chung said.

Sky Shuttle has six medium-twin engine AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters. It operates 54 flights daily between Macau and Hong Kong, between 9am and 11pm. Each flight takes 15 minutes. A one-way ticket costs HK$2,600.



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