Melbourne – Australia Today
A helicopter pilot was told to turn around because a “wall of cloud” was approaching, minutes before the aircraft crashed north of Melbourne, a preliminary report into the accident says.
Pilot Dean Neal, 32, was killed along with four passengers when the Microflite helicopter he was flying crashed at Mount Disappointment, 60km north of Melbourne on 31 March.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s preliminary report into the crash, published on Thursday, said Neal’s helicopter was following a second aircraft as they approached the mountain that morning.
They were initially flying between a layer of scattered cloud at about 1,000 metres (3,500ft), but the pilot of the leading helicopter reported seeing a “wall of cloud” begin to surround the aircraft.
The pilot initially broadcast to Neal they would turn around, before repeating again, “U-turn, U-turn, U-turn”, as they performed a sharp left-hand turn about 7.56am.
They saw Neal’s helicopter pass below them and continue towards the mountain about 30 seconds later.
The pilot of the leading helicopter reported that Neal may have been confused by the initial broadcast and thought the conditions were suitable to continue, the report says.
The ATSB report said the helicopter hit a large tree before crashing to the ground through the tree canopy and catching fire.
Neal, First Ag Capital co-founder Nicholas Vasudeva, AXIchain founder Linda Woodford, finance consultant Ian Perry and meat industry boss Paul Troja were all killed.
The chief commissioner of the ATSB, Angus Mitchell, said investigations into the fatal crash would continue, with weather data, the helicopter’s maintenance history, and the operator’s management systems among the areas still to be analysed.
Helicopter operator Microflite said it would continue to work with the ATSB over the ongoing investigation.