THE body of a man believed to be the pilot of a helicopter which disappeared near New Ireland on Friday has been recovered, according to the PNG Accident Investigation Commission.
Chief Commissioner Hubert Namani said another man believed to be a passenger had managed to swim ashore.
The wreckage was located about 7.4km south east of Silur Mission on New Ireland, four hours after it had left Buka in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville at 10am for Tokua Airport in East New Britain.
Namani said the helicopter,, an Airbus Helicopters BK117-C1, was operated by Tribal Aurora Helicopters.
In a statement, he said: “The last known radio broadcast from the pilot was at 10.45 am when he made a standard “operations normal” report to Air Traffic Services.
“The pilot stated that he was flying below 5,000 feet with an estimated arrival time at Tokua of 11.25 am.
“No further communications were heard from the aircraft.”
The timeline of what happened:
- 10am: Depart Buka for Tokua airport (expected time of arrival 11.25am);
- 10.45am: Last radio broadcast from pilot;
- 11.30am: When helicopter had not arrived at Tokua, Air Traffic Services declared an Alert Phase;
- 11.55am: Alert Phase upgraded to Distress Phase;
- 1.30pm: a Manalos Aviation helicopter left Tokua for the last known position of the missing helicopter; and,
- 2pm: Manalos chopper pilot reported seeing wreckage in the water almost one mile from the shore, about four nautical miles south east of Silur Mission.
Namani said the Manalos pilot had also located a man believed to be the passenger from the helicopter on the beach.
He must have swam ashore and appeared uninjured.
“The body of the deceased pilot was later found in the water by local residents, about 200 meters from the impact point.”
He said the weather in the area at the time of the accident was reported to be “low cloud and rain with significantly reduced visibility”.
“The investigation is continuing and includes flight operations, maintenance, weather, and the role and effectiveness search and rescue coordination by PNG Air Services Ltd,” he said.
“Only a small amount of wreckage that was found floating on the surface was recovered and because the helicopter was reported to have sunk in very deep water, the AIC commenced an office investigation on Friday night.”
He said in accordance with international standards, the commission would issue a preliminary report within 30 days.
“The AIC is the nation’s agency mandated to conduct independent no-blame aircraft accident investigations to determine why an accident or serious incident happened,” Namani said. “The AIC make findings and recommendations for preventing similar accidents in the future.
“It is independent of all regulatory and judicial authorities, and service providers.”
It is the second accident involving a helicopter in the last two months.
On Aug 11, a pilot escaped with minor injuries after his Bell 527 helicopter ditched in waters in Kimbe, West New Britain.
It had failed to arrive in Kimbe at 11.10am as scheduled. At about 1pm, it was reported to be in the water.
Namani said the pilot who was travelling alone was rescued.