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ATSB to U.S. and European Aviation Agencies: Ensure That Robinson R44 Helicopters Are Fitted With Crash-Resistant Fuel Systems

On March 21, 2013, four retired scientists decided to take a helicopter flight to Panorama House in Bulli Tops, Australia. It was just after noon when witnesses reported seeing the Robinson R44 helicopter land, then rapidly take off again.

The chopper veered awkwardly to the right before the main rotor blade struck a tree. Those in the area could only watch helplessly as the Robinson R44 plummeted to the ground, hitting nose-first and rolling over onto its side.

One person who ran toward the downed chopper noticed a large amount of fuel leaking from underneath the helicopter. Within moments, a fire started and quickly engulfed the helicopter. Good samaritans did as much as they could to extinguish the blaze and save the four men but the flames proved to be too intense.

The Bulli Tops crash is one of many tragedies in recent years involving the Robinson R44. An investigation into a similar crash in 2012 at Jaspers Brush found that two victims might have survived the post-crash fire if the Robinson R44's rigid aluminum fuel tank had been replaced with a flexible bladder type fuel tank.

The rigid aluminum fuel tanks have been the subject of scrutiny for years, prompting airworthiness directives to have them replaced with flexible bladder-type fuel tanks that are less likely to leak and feed a fire in the event of a crash.

atsb_stacked.jpgToday, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released its final report on the Bulli Tops crash, and sent a message to the rest of the world-follow our lead and ensure that Robinson R44's are fitted with crash resistant fuel tanks. ATSB chief commissioner Martin Dolan expressed concern that there still might be helicopters flying with dangerous aluminum fuel tanks.

"We have issued safety recommendations to the FAA and EASA. We ask them to take action to increase the number of crash-resistant fuel systems fitted to existing and newly manufactured helicopters," said Dolan.

According to Australian Flying, Dolan expects to hear from the FAA and EASA on the matter by September of this year.

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