Search suspended for missing helicopter

Monday 9 September 2019
At about 1815 on Friday 6 September the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) was contacted by Williamtown air traffic control, who reported that a Helicopter had disappeared from radar about four nautical miles south of Fingle Bay near Port Stephens.
Media Release

The helicopter is a Bell uh-1/B205 and there are believed to be five people on board. 

AMSA coordinated the search for the missing aircraft with multiple aerial and surface assets deployed to a search area including rescue helicopters, AMSA’s challenger search and rescue jet, Volunteer Marine Rescue and NSW Police vessels.

The search was focused on an area of about 150 square nautical miles where the radar signal was lost.

Weather conditions in the area at the time the aircraft went missing were poor with strong winds and reduced visibility. Air traffic control indicated that the aircraft was rapidly losing altitude when contact was lost, there were no detected emergency beacons signals or Mayday calls.

AMSA understand the helicopter was on a private flight between Coffs Harbour and Bankstown.

During searches on Friday night aircraft sighted an oil slick and a number of pieces of debris which were unable to be recovered due to weather conditions but were in the area consistent with the aircraft’s last known position.

When searching resumed at first light on Saturday morning two positive sightings were made.

At about 0845 a NSW Police vessel sighted the tail rotor of the missing aircraft in the search area.

At about 0930 the Westpac Rescue helicopter Westpac 1 sighted the main airframe of the helicopter semi-submerged in the search area about five miles south of Fingle Bay. The observer aboard Westpac 1 witnessed the airframe sink a short time later before surface assets were able to reach the area.

The location of the airframe is consistent with the drift model of where the aircraft was believed to have entered the water.

There have been no sightings of the occupants of the helicopter.

Unfortunately due to expert medical advice and the discovery of the damaged airframe AMSA is suspending search and rescue operations as at 1200 and NSW Police will commence recovery operations. AMSA’s Challenger Jet will continue to support police in the recovery operation.

AMSA has informed the Australian Transport Safety Bureau who will investigate the incident.

AMSA would like to thank all the agencies involved in this rescue in extremely challenging conditions and extends our deep sympathies to the family and friends of those aboard the helicopter.