Tipperary: Air-ambulance forced down after blades caught in cables - report

An air ambulance was forced into an emergency landing after its blades got caught in overhead cables as it flew in for a roadside pickup last year, a report into the incident has found.

Tipperary: Air-ambulance forced down after blades caught in cables - report

An air ambulance was forced into an emergency landing after its blades got caught in overhead cables as it flew in for a roadside pickup last year, a report into the incident has found.

The helicopter was close to touchdown at a field in Co Tipperary when the pilot lost control, as an ill elderly patient waited to be airlifted to hospital.

An accident report into the incident near Borrisoleigh last year found the pilot was forced into a “heavy” landing.

The helicopter was so badly damaged, the patient had to be taken to Limerick Regional Hospital by road.

He had been described as “quite ill” and needed treatment as soon as possible.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) has published its final report into the accident, which happened shortly after 1pm on June 19 2012.

It cited an eyewitness report from a garda, who was on traffic control duty near the scene at the Currabaha crossroads.

He said he heard a loud bang as the helicopter struck electrical wires as it approached and “came down on its belly”.

“The pilot did some job because the back rudder started to spring up and down, moving before or when it hit the ground, I’m not sure,” the garda told investigators. “He did seem to lose control but, thankfully, he did some job to land it.”

The garda added that everything seemed fine on approach until the helicopter hit the cable, causing it to shake.

Three people were on board the helicopter, including the pilot, an Air Corps crew member and an advanced paramedic.

According to the report, the weather had been good as the air ambulance made the 20-minute journey from base at Custume Barracks in Athlone to the pickup near the Currabaha crossroads.

But the pilot did not see the cables until it was too late to avoid them.

He had noted two parallel sets of wires – one crossing infield and the other alongside the minor road where the waiting vehicles were parked – and decided to approach along the 80 metre-wide stretch between them.

However, as the pilot began to reduce speed and height in a bid to begin landing, wires appeared “out of nowhere” to the front.

He said he instinctively applied power to the helicopter and pitched the nose up to try to avoid them.

But the main rotor blades struck the wires and severed them, causing what the pilot described as “severe vibration and momentary wallowing” of the helicopter.

He told investigators his main objective had been to get the helicopter safely on to the ground.

Following the emergency landing, the pilot immediately shut off the engine and the crew got off the helicopter shocked and shaken, but uninjured.

“The helicopter struck a pair of electrical wires crossing the final approach path as it was about to land in a field,” the report cited as a likely cause of the accident.

The air ambulance had been tasked by the National Aeromedical Co-ordination Centre to collect the patient from a road ambulance near Borrisoleigh and transfer him to hospital in Limerick.

The helicopter sustained “substantial damage” in the accident, while power lines over the agricultural field and the land itself were also damaged from the impact, the report said.

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