Richard and Carolyn Green. Picture: richardgreen.net.auA HUNTER helicopter crash that claimed the lives of two qualified pilots and a documentary filmmaker has been attributed to low visibility in “marginal” weather conditions.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau on Tuesday released its report into the 2015 Watagan Forest crash that killed retired businessman turned landscape photographer Richard Green, 74, his graphic artist wifeCarolyn Green, 71, and their travelling companion, renowned documentary maker John Davis 72.
The crash occurred as the trio travelled back to Sydney from a an anti-mining festival near Tamworth in stormy conditions. Mr Davis had joined the Greens in the hope of filming above a mine on their flight path.
Witnesses reported Mr Green landed the plane for about 40 minutes outside Cessnock about 7.15pm amid stormy conditions.
Seven minutes after taking flight again, the aircraft hit the earth.
Witness reports detailed in the investigation describe a heavy storm cell in the area on the night of the crash.
“One witness, who advised he was a pilot, later reported that the conditions did not appear conducive to [visual flight rules]flight,” the investigation report states.
A search began 36 hours after the impact due to uncertainty among relatives about when the Greens had planned to return to Sydney.
The report considers that Mr Green may have decided to take off from the landing site outside Cessnock due to apparent improvement in the weather, fading light and “reasonable expectations of navigating the weather conditions”.
“If the pilot had reached the lower terrain near the coast, there was a greater likelihood of being able to continue the flight to the destination or land at an airport with access to accommodation,” the report states.
It also notes that Mr Green may have been attempting to regain a view of the ground, a similar technique to one he had described from a 2004 incident.
“If the pilot had been descending through cloud in order to establish visual reference to the ground …the context in this case was different,” the report states.
“Instead of flying over water and coastline, the pilot was contending with terrain that was undulating, uniformly textured, and relatively high.”
The investigation concluded that the flighthad a “high risk” of encountering forecast cloud and reduced visibility.
“Due to the likely presence of cloud, the pilot probably experienced a loss of visual reference leading to a collision with terrain,” the report concludes.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau also found that emergency transmitters fitted to the frame of the chopper had been removed, with personal beacons that needed to be activated manually carried instead.
“While in this accident it did not affect the outcome for the occupants, the lack of activation, combined with the absence of flight notification information, delayed the search and rescue response.”
The Newcastle Herald has reported Mr Green’s website said he and his wife had used the helicopter to ‘‘find, access and photographically record some of Australia’s most remote, wild and beautiful environments’’.
His logbook recorded more than 2600 hours of aeronautical experience.
A message from relatives on Mr Green’s website mourned the “huge loss” the pair left behind.
“They were rare people, humble whilst achieving greatness and deeply committed to sustaining wilderness and the natural environment,” it states.
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