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ATSB to probe fatal helicopter crash cause

Aviation safety experts are expected to begin combing through the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed in mountainous Victorian terrain, killing five people.

Four passengers and a pilot died at the scene after the aircraft crashed at Mt Disappointment, north of Melbourne, on Thursday morning.

The five people on board included four men and one woman aged from 32 to 73. Three were from Victoria and two from NSW.

Their remains were found after ground crews battled steep terrain and dense forest to reach the wreckage near Blair’s Hut about 3.45pm, after it was earlier spotted by the police air wing.

“The helicopter’s been destroyed and unfortunately there were no survivors,” Acting Inspector Josh Langelaan told reporters on Thursday night.

It is believed to be Victoria’s deadliest aviation disaster since February 2017, when five people were killed after a charter plane crashed into Melbourne’s Essendon DFO shopping centre.

At the time, Premier Daniel Andrews said it was the state’s worst civil aviation accident for 30 years.

The helicopter was one of two that departed Batman Park in central Melbourne on Thursday morning, flying in convoy over Mt Disappointment on their way to Ulupna near the Victorian/NSW border.

The passengers were travelling as part of a business trip, police said.

Mr Langelaan said there was low cloud over Mt Disappointment when one of the helicopters went missing and the other raised the alarm, before landing safely at Moorabbin.

The cause of the crash remains unknown, with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to take over the investigation on Friday.

It plans to send a team to the site from its Canberra and Melbourne offices with expertise in helicopter operations and maintenance, as well as aerospace engineering.

The experts will inspect the wreckage and site surrounds before sending any relevant parts to Canberra for further examination.

The ATSB will also analyse any recorded data and conduct interviews with those who have knowledge of the flight.

A preliminary report from the watchdog is expected in about six to eight weeks.

Bulldozers and an excavator have been called in to clear a path to the crash site through the rugged terrain, with the ATSB expected to inspect the site for several days.

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