AAIB Details London Helicopter Accident

AINsafety » March 11, 2013
March 11, 2013, 12:20 PM

A UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch special bulletin [preliminary report] on the January 16 helicopter crash in central London appears to blame the pilot and sole occupant of the Agusta A109E for failure to maintain sufficient forward visibility while flying in congested airspace over the River Thames. The helicopter struck a building crane on the south side of the river, killing the pilot and a pedestrian on the ground after the aircraft fell to the street. The pilot departed Redhill Airport southeast of Heathrow at 7:35 a.m. local time for a flight through the London Control Zone toward Elstree Aerodrome northwest of the UK capital to pick up a passenger. However, the passenger called the pilot moments before his departure and suggested a delay because of poor weather at Elstree. The pilot departed anyway and reported flying on top of a cloud deck just after departure. He turned back toward London 15 minutes later when he was unable to see the landing site in Elstree. At the time, air traffic controllers at London City Airport just east of the crash site were reporting, “Visibility 3/8 of a mile, runway visual range (RVR) 2,600 feet (approximately), freezing fog and broken clouds at 100 feet.” The pilot asked London Control for permission to divert to Battersea Heliport two miles from the crash site and shortly thereafter was asked to hold above the Thames awaiting final visual clearance to Battersea, which came at 7:59 a.m. The pilot acknowledged and 15 seconds later began a right turn toward the heliport when he struck a crane attached to St. George’s Tower, which was obscured by clouds. The Agusta exploded and plunged to the ground on the south side of the Thames.

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