Lucky escape for Cargolux as fuel leaks from helicopter shipment

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The crew of a Cargolux flight had a luck escape when a helicopter it was transporting from Houston leaked 322 litres of fuel during the flight.

The Bell 412EP helicopter was being shipped on the main deck of the Boeing 747-8 Freighter on 30 March 2017 from Houston, USA to Luxembourg via Glasgow Prestwick Airport.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) says that following an uneventful flight, the aircraft arrived in Prestwick and parked on the stand, and while the flight crew were shutting down the engines they smelled fuel.

A ground operations agent entered the aircraft via the main deck door to start unloading, when he noticed the smell of aviation fuel and heard the running of liquid, which he identified as coming from the helicopter, which was being shipped as cargo on the main deck of the aircraft.

The fuel was leaking from a vent on the forward right hand side of the helicopter, and the agent reported the problem to the crew.

The airport authority and Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting Services (RFFS) were notified and the airport emergency response plan was activated.

The flight crew shut down the aircraft and opened the escape hatch and upper deck service door, the aircraft was evacuated, electrically isolated and quarantined, and after it was made safe all cargo was offloaded manually.

The aircraft, LX-VCF suffered extensive fuel contamination, with internal floor panels, ceiling panels and sidewall liners being lifted and insulation blankets removed, in addition the system electronics, avionics wire looms and harnesses required decontamination.

It flew home on 11 April 2017, and required a number of additional actions including extensive inspections, cleaning and application of corrosion inhibiting fluid to return it to a fully airworthy condition.

In its report, the AAIB says the fuel represented a “substantial hazard” to the aircraft, flight crew and ground staff at Prestwick, with the fuel and vapours posing a significant fire risk.

The report also highlight anomalies in the shipping document, including the claim that the helicopter was not carrying fuel, and who was responsible for preparation of the helicopter.

The AAIB recommends that Bristow, who was selling the helicopter reviews procedures relating to the preparation of helicopters to ensure they are defuelled, and that contracted handling agents take steps to raise awareness among staff about the possibility of dangerous goods in general cargo and improve methods of detecting undeclared dangerous goods.