Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) yesterday released a preliminary report on the accident involving Agusta Westland AW139 Helicopter operated by Caverton Helicopters Limited which occurred at Kabba Stadium, Kogi State on 2nd February, with 12 persons on board, including the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
The chopper has registration Marks 5N-CML. Releasing the report to journalists at Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) office of the agency yesterday, Commissioner of AIB, Engr Akin Olateru stated that the initial findings show that the helicopter had a valid certificate of airworthiness but that Caverton Helicopters Limited did not conduct site survey of the landing field prior to the flight.
The Bureau also reported that Caverton Helicopters Limited did not carry out safety and risk assessment of the landing area prior to dispatch of the flight. The helicopter, AIB stated, hovered to land in a brownout condition.
Brownout in helicopter operations is an in-flight visibility restriction caused by dust or sand in which the flight crew loses visual contact with nearby objects that provide the outside visual references necessary to control the helicopter near the ground.
As a precautionary measure, AIB issued an Immediate Safety Recommendations to Caverton Helicopter, stating that “Caverton Helicopters Limited should ensure that flight operations are carried out in accordance with the company’s approved operations manual, vis-a-vis site survey and proper safety risk analysis are done before dispatching any helicopter to unapproved landing pads”.
To the aviation regulatory agency, AIB also issued that “NCAA should issue an Advisory Circular to all helicopter operators flying in Nigeria to be alert of the possibility and the effect of brownout. Appropriate procedures should be put in place to mitigate its effect(s)”.
According to Engr Olateru, other initial findings as discovered by AIB are that: “drug and alcohol test for the crew could not be carried out; the flight crew were properly licensed and adequately rested to operate the flight; the Captain was the Pilot Flying (PF), and the Co-pilot was the Pilot Monitoring (PM); the take-off, climb out, cruise and approach phases were normal and that during cruise at 5,000 ft and at about 10 minutes to touchdown, the crew noticed the flight recorder light on the Crew Alerting System (CAS) come on and quick Reference Handbook items were accomplished.
Other findings by AIB include: another helicopter operated by Nigeria Police Force (Bell 412; 5N-PEJ) landed ahead of NGR002; the crew briefed on landing in brownout and used the Company’s Brownout Landing Procedures; during the landing, at about 50 ft to touchdown, a heavy brownout enveloped the helicopter and the crew lost visual contact with the ground; the Co-pilot called out radio altimeter 35, 30, 25, 20, 15 and no more; at about 14:34 h, the helicopter touched down hard on the right main landing gear and rolled over to the right; the crew carried out Emergency Landing Procedures which included immediate engines shutdown, fuel shut OFF, battery switch OFF, and generators switch off; all occupants of the helicopter were evacuated uninjured and that the helicopter was substantially damaged.
Confirming that both pilot (flying), co-pilot (monitoring) and the engineer are Nigerians, Enrg Olateru pointed out outstanding investigations to include: analysis of the data from Cockpit Voice Recorder information and Flight Data Recorder (FDR); analysis of the data from Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS), Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) and other non-volatile memory devices; further interviews of witnesses and further inspection of the helicopter wreckage.
According to the AIB Commissioner, the Bureau was notified of the accident by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) on the day of the occurrence. Investigators were deployed to Kabba, Kogi State on 3rd February, 2019 and commenced post occurrence assessments, under the provisions of Civil Aviation (Investigation of Air Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 2016 and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 13.
While stressing that the investigations is still ongoing, Olateru warned that the purpose of this preliminary report is to provide details of the initial facts, discussions and findings surrounding the occurrence, adding that it includes information gathered from witness statements, flight recorders, Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) Data, Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) data, and preliminary inspection of the accident site and the wreckage.
Recall that on 2nd February, 2019 at about 07:26 h, an AgustaWestland (AW139) helicopter with nationality and registration marks 5N-CML owned and operated by Caverton Helicopters Limited departed Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos, for Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, to conduct a chartered VIP flight from Abuja to Okene via Kabba and then return to Abuja. The positioning flight to Abuja was uneventful.
According to AIB, at about 13:46 h, the helicopter departed Abuja runway 22 for Kabba, Kogi State on a VIP chartered flight Nigeria 002 (NGR002), on a Visual Flight Rule (VFR) Flight Plan with 12 persons onboard, including the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, his entourage and three crew members (Captain, Co-Pilot and an Engineer). The fuel onboard was 1,268 kg. A squawk code of 1301 was given by the Air Traffic Control (ATC) for radar monitoring. The Captain was the Pilot Flying (PF) while the Co-pilot was the Pilot Monitoring (PM).
“The Flight Data Recorder (FDR) data indicated that the take-off and climb out phase was normal; and the helicopter levelled off at a cruising altitude of 5,000 ft flying with autopilot coupled. During cruise at 14:20 h, the Multi-Purpose Flight Recorder (MPFR) light came ON indicating that the recorder had stopped recording and the Crew Alerting System (CAS) displayed FDR and CVR Fail. Subsequently, the Caverton Helicopters Quick Reference Handbook (QRH) procedures were accomplished which advised that the flight should continue. The helicopter was monitored on Abuja Approach Radar until 55 NM to Kabba, when the helicopter began descent”, AIB stated.
The accident investigation Bureau, however, pointed out that during post-accident interview, the crew stated that on initial approach, they carried out pre-landing checks which included a landing brief for a ground helipad landing and a Landing Decision (or Committal) Point (LDP) of 100 ft/ 20 KIAS based on the surrounding obstacles and masts.
Meanwhile, another helicopter, (Bell 412) with nationality and registration marks 5N-PEJ operated by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) conveying the advance party, established radio communication with NGR002 just before the MPFR failed. The police helicopter landed in the stadium at 14:30 h ahead of NGR002.
The crew of NGR002 stated that they sighted the stadium as a result of the brown dust generated by the downwash of the police helicopter main rotor. The crew further stated that the approach was normal.
After identifying the stadium, both flight crew members agreed on the selected landing spot within the stadium. The NGR002 got into hover to land and at 50 ft above ground level, a brownout1 set in. The crew lost visual contact with the ground and elected to use the Instantaneous Vertical Speed Indicator (IVSI) and Radio Altimeter (RAD ALT) to control the descent. The Co-Pilot began RAD ALT Callouts “35, 30, 25, 20 and 15”. After the RAD ALT 15 Callout, neither the Co-Pilot nor the Captain could remember making or hearing further callouts. At about 14:34 h, the helicopter experienced a hard landing on the right main landing gear and rolled over to the right.
The Captain immediately shut the engines while the Co-Pilot shut off the fuel. The flight crew could remember executing the emergency landing procedures, which included switching off the battery and the generators.
According to the weather report obtained by Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the prevailing weather at the stadium was good (CAVOK).
All persons on board were evacuated uninjured.
The accident occurred in day time in an Instrument Meteorological Condition (IMC).
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