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Paramedics leapt to safety as chopper careered around hospital roof: report

Dave Chambers Cape Town bureau chief
The SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service Agusta 119 helicopter after its engines were shut down on the roof of Paarl Hospital on February 19 2022.
The SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service Agusta 119 helicopter after its engines were shut down on the roof of Paarl Hospital on February 19 2022.
Image: SA Civil Aviation Authority

Two paramedics aboard a helicopter careering in circles on a hospital roof didn't hang around and hope for the best.

The pair hurled themselves out of the Agusta onto Paarl Hospital's helipad — one injuring himself in the process —  while the pilot battled to control the pirouetting helicopter.

Once the pilot shut down the engine, he also leapt out of the aircraft while the rotor blades were still spinning.

Details of the drama, which unfolded on the 30m roof at 1am on February 19, emerged this week in a preliminary serious incident report issued by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The report says a battery of tests have been conducted on the seven-year-old single-engine aircraft but does not indicate any progress in finding out what caused its problems.

In January 2022, the SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service introduced its new CEO, Farhaad Haffejee, by posting a photograph of him standing in front of the helicopter that weeks later lost control on Paarl Hospital's rooftop helipad.
In January 2022, the SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service introduced its new CEO, Farhaad Haffejee, by posting a photograph of him standing in front of the helicopter that weeks later lost control on Paarl Hospital's rooftop helipad.
Image: ams.org.za

The 37-year-old pilot and paramedics aboard the helicopter were preparing to fly to Cape Town International Airport when the incident happened, says the CAA report.

When the main rotor approached the speed required for take-off “the helicopter abruptly experienced a violent yaw to the left side of approximately 90°; it then stopped for about a second”.

The pilot attempted to control the aircraft with the right rudder pedal but “a second violent yaw to the left side ensued in two full rotations (of 360º) before the helicopter stopped again for approximately two seconds”.

The report added: “Thereafter, a third rotation to the left side ensued; at this point (when the third rotation started), the two paramedics decided to disembark the helicopter voluntarily without alerting the pilot about their intention.

“Meanwhile, as the helicopter advanced through the third 360º yaw to the left side, the pilot rolled the throttle closed. This action slowly stopped the yaw rate.

The helipad at Paarl Hospital where a helicopter yawed out of control on February 19 2022.
The helipad at Paarl Hospital where a helicopter yawed out of control on February 19 2022.
Image: SA Civil Aviation Authority/Google Earth

“The pilot then managed to get the helicopter to ground idle. He then shut down the engine and switched off all power. He then disembarked the helicopter while the rotor blades were still in motion just in case the helicopter started to yaw uncontrollably again.

“One of the paramedics sustained minor injuries after being dragged by the helicopter skids while disembarking the helicopter; the pilot and the second paramedic were not injured. There were no visible damages to the helicopter.”

According to the CAA report, the AW119 Koala single-turbine helicopter can carry seven passengers plus the pilot, or slung loads up to 1,000kg. 

Its maximum fully loaded range is more than 650km and it is primarily used for search and rescue, medical evacuation, surveillance, and passenger and light cargo transport.

TimesLIVE


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