Eight survive after Black Hawk comes to grief

By: Amanda Watt, Leah Moore, Tony Koch and Tanya Moore

PILOT error is suspected as the cause of a Black Hawk helicopter crash which left six soldiers injured and the $25 million aircraft destroyed near Amberley RAAF base southwest of Brisbane yesterday.
The army helicopter with eight on board was on a training exercise when it reportedly clipped trees and ploughed into a cow paddock at Mt Walker, 12km southwest of Amberley about 10.30am.
It is understood the helicopter was travelling at a ground speed of more than 300km/h when it hit trees during a low-level drill that required avoiding a mock attack from a jet fighter.
A trainee pilot, 23, and his instructor, 33, were at the controls with four other trainees and two loadmasters in the cabin.
It is not clear whether the instructor or his co-pilot had control of the helicopter at the time of the crash.
The injured men suffered broken bones, spinal trauma and chest and abdominal injuries but none of the injuries was considered life-threatening.
A tradesman about a kilometre from the crash site said the helicopter had come in too low, hitting a group of gum trees and sending it plunging into the field.
``We heard the rotors hit the trees. We heard the rotors clumping,'' Noel Forrester said.
All crew underwent counselling yesterday and were expected to be interviewed by crash investigators in coming days.
School of Army Aviation commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Kim Jorgensen yesterday stood by the controversial Black Hawks and indicated pilot error may have been a contributing factor. Technical problems have been ruled out by a preliminary investigation. ``We take every step possible to make sure that the people that are doing this are highly trained, are professional and capable,'' Lt-Col Jorgensen said.
``Sometimes we are human beings and things happen.''
He said the instructing pilot was ``extremely advanced'' while the trainee had nearly finished his 18 month-intensive training period.
``(The trainee) would have been fairly advanced and very capable of flying the aircraft.''
Lt-Col Jorgensen said the aircraft's structure had saved the lives of all on board. ``They have survived wholly and solely because it is a Black Hawk and we do trust it implicitly,'' he said.
Defence Minister Robert Hill yesterday pledged an extensive inquiry into the crash.
Fifteen Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers and three airmen died when two Black Hawks collided during a night exercise near Townsville in 1996.