SAR Questions Feature in PNG AIC B427 Accident Investigation

Search and rescue (SAR) Questions Feature in PNG AIC B427 PS-HSG Accident Investigation

The Papua New Guinea (PNG) Accident Investigation Commission (AIC) has issued a preliminary report into an accident involving Bell 427 P2-HSG operated by Ballina Limited t/a Niugini Helicopters on 11 August 2019.

History of the Accident Flight

The helicopter was conducting a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) ferry flight from Kokopo, East New Britain Province to Kimbe, West New Britain Province, when it impacted the water, over a reef 3.1 nm NW of Baluma township.  The pilot, the sole person on board, was seriously injured and rescued after just over an hour with the assistance of local boat owners.

The pilot told investigators that he descended to about 3000 ft and commenced an autorotation exercise.  Their is no comment on this decision or any preparation for it. See our past article: Inappropriate Autorotation Training. The AIC report that:

Just as he tried to roll out of the flare at about 1000 ft, the engine torque gauge indicated ‘low’ and the helicopter did not respond to the power inputs by the pilot.

Niugini Helicopters Bell 427 P2-HSG Flightpath (Credit: AIC)

Niugini Helicopters Bell 427 P2-HSG Flightpath (Credit: AIC)

He immediately activated the company’s third-party tracking system (Spidertracks) ‘SOS’ at about 11:04 LT just before descending through 1000 ft, and broadcast a ‘Mayday’.

Bell 427 P2-HSG (Credit: Niugini Helicopters)

Search and Rescue (SAR)

Despite the relatively rapid rescue, the AIC are also looking at Search and Rescue provisions.  They note that:

During a previous investigation in 2018, PNGASL [PNG Air Services Limited] air traffic control managers and supervisors informed the AIC investigators that the PNGASL room assigned for the RCC [Rescue Coordination Centre] was not resourced, and the documentation required to efficiently and effectively conduct SAR operations was not up-to-date. The SAR coordination operation was conducted at the Port Moresby ATS Centre Supervisor’s work station.

There was no designated RCC office with equipment and documentation to facilitate the conduct of RCC responsibilities. Air Traffic Services staff did not have that responsibility as a full-time role as required in Annex 12, Paragraph 2.2.3, Standard. The RCC SAR operations did not meet the Standards of ICAO Annex 12.

The 2018 investigation found that funding for the establishment, operation, and maintenance of an Annex 12 Standard RCC was not being provided by the PNG Government although the provision was available in the Civil Aviation Act to the agency conducting RCC duties, to ensure its full functionality and to meet PNG’s international obligations.

The first official RCC coordinator was appointed on the 30th of July 2018 from within PNGASL. The officer did not meet any of the requirements of ICAO Annex 12 (Search and Rescue) to the Convention on International Civil Aviation and the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual.

This official has however since attended several courses.

Following the Ministers Directive on 9th July 2018, PNGASL commenced amending the [PNG] SAR Manual {last amended in 2000] and it remains in the draft amendment process.  The [PNG] SAR Plan has not been amended since 13th June 2003.

PNG does no have an approval for its RCC (under PNG’s CAR Part 176) but the regulator, PNG CASA, has yet to issue any such an approval and has no qualified SAR inspector according to the AIC.

Investigation Planning

The investigation is ongoing with examination of the engines and tail rotor planned to determine if there was an technical malfunction.  The investigators comment that:

The investigation…is examining and analysing organisational aspects, safety management systems, regulatory, audit and surveillance aspects, including audits relating to the State Safety Program (SSP), search and rescue coordination and operation, and notifications.

The investigation will also include a detailed review of the ATC communications and aircraft recorded data, and flight operational and maintenance records as appropriate.

Other Safety Resources

The operator had an earlier accident with a B407 in 2017 doing a helicopter external sling load operation (HESLO).


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