Men survive helicopter crash
TWO Kongwak men escaped with their lives after a dramatic helicopter crash on Sunday afternoon, at about 3.20pm.
Pilot Don Brown, 69, and his nephew Ian Brown, 43, were a little over a kilometre from landing their Hughes 500 when it suffered engine failure at about 500ft.
The aircraft plummeted swiftly to ground – guided in the landing by Don’s experienced hand – and was destroyed on impact. Miraculously, the pair walked free, with minor injuries. They were treated at the scene and Ian was taken to Wonthaggi Hospital, but cleared of any serious injury.
Don said he was flying lower than usual. It’s a factor that may well have been the difference between walking away and dying on impact.
“We came across Western Port Bay, French Island, the bay again. If it happened in water, it wouldn’t have been good,” Don said.
“It was engine failure. We were coasting along. I flew down a bit lower than I normally would. I normally fly at about a thousand feet and auto in.
“Suddenly there were bells ringing. When the engine’s output drops below 85 per cent, it switches an alarm. Things started yawing, of course, because the engine’s not driving the bearings.”
The experienced pilot instantly knew what was wrong.
“The thing is verging on out of control. From there on it’s downhill and you don’t have any say really. I managed to turn it to the left and skid along the ground,” Don said.
“We were going pretty fast and I did manage to cushion our touchdown. That’s what kills you: the way you land. Once you’re on the ground, you’ll soon stop, particularly when it’s wet. It’s totally stuffed the helicopter.
“You could argue that the soft ground helped. In theory that would have caused a lot more damage. One skid started to sink and another skid was torn off, before the chopper fell to its side.”
Mr Brown said he did not see his life flashing before his eyes in the lead up to impact. In truth, he was probably not afforded the time.
“It’s no trouble keeping your mind focused. Your life is there, you’ve just got to make sure you land gently. You don’t think about dying. You concentrate on flying it to ground,” he said.
Don said Ian stayed quiet throughout the ordeal, but would have been “packing it”.
“You’re better off at the controls,” he said.
Don admits that for his wife Ailsa, him taking to the air again was “a certain issue”.
“I want to fly again. It’s a fever you get when you’re young. There’s no antidote,” he said.
The near-death experience of her husband was an event that has shaken her to the core, though she has remained remarkably composed.
“It was appalling, it was dreadful. I was really frightened. You see your husband crash his helicopter and you assume the worst. But everything’s okay,” she said.
Like everyone else, Ailsa was surprised her husband walked away.
“Wouldn’t you be?” she asked.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will investigate the circumstances surrounding the crash. Local police, ambulance and CFA crews attended the scene.
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