Safety fears over helicopter crashes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2011, 12:00am

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Five accidents involving AgustaWestland139 helicopters around the world this year have renewed safety concerns about their continuing use in Hong Kong and Macau.

At least nine people were killed in the five incidents in the Qatari capital of Doha, and also in Beijing, South Korea, Brazil and Kuala Lumpur, raising fresh alarms about the safety of the Italian-made aircraft. An AW139 was forced to ditch in Victoria Harbour last summer.

The Irish Air Corps and Queensland Emergency Units grounded their entire fleet of AW139s days after accidents in China and Brazil killed eight people last month.

Sky Shuttle - owned by the family of Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun - is still running the remaining five AW139s on the routes between Hong Kong and Macau and those between Macau and Shenzhen, after an accident involving one last July. All 13 people aboard the Sky Shuttle helicopter were rescued.

The Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department (CAD) is still investigating the cause of the rupture of the tail rotor, the direct cause for the helicopter losing control seconds after it took off. An accident in Brazil last month also found a damaged tail rotor in the wreckage of an AW139 operated by Senior Taxi Aereo.

In February, a South Korean Coast Guard AW139 crashed into waters west of Jeju Island, leaving one female officer dead.

Three months later, a tail rotor gearbox came off from an AW139 of Gulf Helicopters when it was taxiing on the apron, the second tail boom failure in an AW139 of the same operator. In June, a Weststar AW139's tail section detached while landing in Malaysia.

Last month, four people died when a Beijing police AW139 ditched in a reservoir in a suburb of Beijing during a training flight. Also, all four people aboard died when an AW139 crashed into the sea in Brazil.

After the two serious accidents in Beijing and Brazil, the regulators, including the United States Federal Aviation Administration and Transport Canada, ordered mandatory inspections of AW139 and tail rotor blades within 25 flight hours from August 28, and thereafter at intervals not exceeding 25 hours. More importantly, they imposed a new life limit on the tail rotor blades of 600 hours.

COMING TO GRIEF

AW139 accidents this year:

Early 2011 South Korea - crashed into the sea, killing several on board

Early 2011 Doha - serious ground incident

June 2011 Kuala Lumpur - serious ground incident with detachment of tail rotor

Aug 2011 Beijing - Beijing Security Bureau loses AW139 when it ditches into lake. Cause unknown. Four people die

Aug 2011 Brazil - AW139 crashes into sea killing four on board. Wreckage shows damage to the tail rotor blade