You will probably have received media reports already confirming the death of one of our contracted pilots as a result of a helicopter crash whilst working on the Kingiman fire near Ulladulla yesterday afternoon.
The pilot involved was Allan Tull, more widely known as Tully, who was working for Sydney Helicopters, flying one of their BK117 helicopters. Tully was an extremely experienced pilot of some 30 years and was recognized as one of the most experienced fire-bombing pilots in the industry. Tully also flew the NSW RFS BK117s for several years. His current employer, Sydney Helicopters, has been operating for 33 years and is recognized for having a wide range of capabilities including fire fighting operations. The NSW RFS has had a close working relationship with Sydney Helicopters for decades. We are working closely with Sydney Helicopters at this time and assisting them wherever we can. In speaking with the owner last night he is most appreciative of the assistance provided.
As is appropriate, formal investigative processes involving the NSW Police and ATSB are underway to formally determine the cause/circumstances associated with the accident.
Yesterday afternoon I was able to pop down to Shoalhaven and speak with some of the crews involved and affected by this awful accident and attend the accident scene where crews were still in attendance. Having listened to the crews explain and describe what they heard and saw, how they responded and how they felt, there is no doubt that this accident was an extremely tragic and frightening experience for all involved.
Two brigades, Ridgeway (crew of 6) and Queanbeyan (crew of 5), as part of the Lake George Strike Team helping local crews, were working to protect a property impacted by the fire. Shortly after 1400hours the helicopter crashed in close proximity (estimated to be 15-20m) to the Ridgeway crew and tanker, as well as the home and local resident.
The Ridgeway crew members witnessed the accident and helicopter crash to the ground in front of them. Crew members immediately responded to the aid of the pilot who unfortunately was determined to be deceased and was not able to be revived despite their best efforts. The Queanbeyan crew also responded from a short distance away to assist their colleagues. With a strong smell of fuel, they deployed lines and made the area safe. Other emergency services arrived thereafter from road and air.
As is sadly too often the case, one of our responding crew members knew the accident victim. When not volunteering, he works as a ‘crewman’ with helicopter companies, including Sydney Helicopters and he identified the aircraft and Tully immediately.
Last evening I was also able to speak with the owner and chief pilot of Sydney Helicopters as well as Tully’s son who lives in New Zealand and pass on the sincere condolences and sympathies of the NSW RFS family. They are naturally devastated and struggling to comprehend the loss of Tully however, they did take a deal of comfort and were most appreciate in knowing that our NSW RFS members, people who knew and cared for Tully’s welfare, were there and trying to assist within seconds of the accident and that he wasn’t isolated waiting for assistance to arrive.
I also spoke with Commissioner Paul Baxter on the way home tonight to pass on the appreciation of the Lake George crews for the extraordinary efforts of the Ulladulla FRNSW Rescue crew who attended the scene to remove Tully from the aircraft. Our crews who were present and assisted FRNSW, described the collective effort as being most professional, dignified and respectful.
Unfortunately, by the time I arrived in Milton I was not able to speak with other pilots, crew or air operations personnel but am aware that IC Greg Wardle and RM Ken Hall spent time with the team at the Shoalhaven FCC. My sincere appreciation to all involved in responding to this tragic accident, from the crews on the front line, to the IMT and State Operations and all those behind the scenes.
As we discussed a deal last night, I feel it’s important to reiterate that it’s perfectly normal and OK for anyone involved and affected by this tragic accident to not feel OK. I would encourage all members to ensure they look after themselves, look after each other and avail themselves of the services available through our CISS and Chaplaincy/Family Support programs where necessary.
Such tragic accidents always reinforce for me the fragility of life and the extraordinary pain and grief associated with loss. We need to ensure that we all maintain our focus on safety and should truly cherish the time we have with loved ones, colleagues, family and friends.
I’m sure you will all join with me in extended our thoughts, prayers and best wishes to all those involved and affected by this terrible tragedy.