Five confirmed dead following helicopter crash north of Melbourne, Australia
Five people have been killed after a helicopter crashed into rugged terrain in regional Victoria on Thursday morning, 31 March 2022. Police said a pilot and four passengers were on board the helicopter, all of whom died at the crash scene near Mt Disappointment, an hour north of Melbourne's CBD. Police Air Wing found the wreckage in the vicinity of Blair's Hut, about 80km north of the Melbourne CBD, at about 11h45am. The area where the helicopter crashed is covered by such dense bush that police had been unable to access it by ground or land a helicopter nearby. Bulldozers and an excavator were required to clear a path to the crash site during the search and rescue operation. Rescuers had to be winched from a police helicopter down to the crash site, near Blair's Hut. State Emergency Service volunteers, paramedics, police and Fire Forest Management workers set up a staging point more than 8km from the wreckage.
The helicopter was one of two that left the Melbourne CBD on Thursday morning, flying in convoy over Mt Disappointment when it disappeared about 09h30am, police said. Five Country Fire Authority vehicles, police and paramedics, including the air ambulance, responded to the scene.
"The flight was destined for Ulupna, located in northern Victoria. Police Air Wing located the wreckage in the vicinity of Blair's Hut about 11h45am," Victoria Police said in its statement. It was believed to be carrying a group of cattle farmers headed to Yarrawonga. The second helicopter landed without incident at Moorabbin Airport in Melbourne's south-east.
Both Microflite Helicopter Services aircraft took off from the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne CBD near Crown just before 8am. Microflite Helicopter Services' executive general manager Rodney Higgins said the private charter flight that crashed was being flown by a highly respected pilot.
He said the charter lost communication with the other helicopter just after 8am, with the incident then immediately reported to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in accordance with standard protocols. Higgins said the company would cooperate with extensive investigations into what had occurred. "I extend my deepest condolences to all affected by this incident," he said.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) sent a team from Canberra and Melbourne to investigate the incident. "Once on site, they will examine the wreckage and site surrounds and will retrieve any relevant components for further examination in the ATSB's technical facilities in Canberra," ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said "The ATSB will also analyse any recorded data and conduct interviews with those who have knowledge of the flight."
Mitchell said the ATSB expected to publish a preliminary report about the crash in six to eight weeks' time. "However, at any stage should we identify critical safety issues we will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate safety action can be taken," he said.
The area where the crash has occurred was covered with low cloud and smoke from recent bushfire burn-offs.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said heavy fog and cloud hampered the aerial search for the crash this morning.
The crash victims were:
- A 32-year-old man from Cheltenham, Victoria
- A 50-year-old woman from Inverloch, Victoria
- A 73-year-old man from Albert Park, Victoria
- A 59-year-old man from New South Wales
- A 70-year-old man from New South Wales
Sources: 9 News, SBS News