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Agusta 109 Helicopter Crash In Ireland - Accident Report Released

Expert Comments On Findings Of AAIB Publication


Specialist aviation lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have revealed their concerns after an air accident report into a helicopter crash in which three people died revealed the aircraft’s sensors had not been activated.

According to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), the ground proximity warning system was not in operation on the Agusta 109 helicopter when it crashed in the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland in October 2010.

The AAIB could not identify any technical faults with the helicopter but confirmed that a full inspection  was not possible due to the extensive damage sustained in the incident, as the helicopter collided with the mountain at high speed. Pilot Anthony Smith and passengers Charles Stisted and Ian Wooldridge were all killed in the incident.

Jim Morris, former RAF pilot and Partner in Irwin Mitchell’s specialist aviation law team, acts for both victims who have suffered serious injuries in air accidents in the UK and abroad, as well as the families of those who have lost loved ones in such incidents.

Commenting on the outcome of the AAIB’s report, he said: “The findings of the report into the Agusta 109 incident in Northern Ireland raises serious concerns over the pilot’s decision not to use all safety systems available on the aircraft.

“The weather conditions on the day meant that there were layers of cloud that covered the tops of the mountains, making visual navigation through the mountains more difficult with little margin for error.  The report acknowledged that the pilot was a very experienced ex military helicopter pilot and instructor and was of the view that it would be very unlikely that he would have deliberately flown in cloud at a height below the mountain tops. 

“It opined that the difficult visual conditions combined with a possible distraction in the cockpit may have caused the pilot to mistakenly believe that he was clear of the terrain.  In conditions where the visibility may be limited or obscured, a key component to warn the pilot of approaching terrain is an Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS). 

“The helicopter was fitted with an EGPWS but the accident report determined that the EGPWS had not been used since it was installed in 2009.  The report went on to state that the use of EGPWS is not compulsory in helicopters as the terrain alerts it provides can be considered a nuisance by pilots operating in visual conditions where they are aware of the close proximity of ground.  Had this system been in use on the accident flight, the impact at just 118 feet below the summit of Shanlieve mountain may well have been avoided.

“In light of the circumstances of this tragic accident, we hope that lessons will be learned and that helicopter operators and aviation authorities will review the guidelines and rules for the use of EGPWS by helicopter pilots when operating in marginal visibility conditions in mountainous terrain.”