NTSB Identification: ANC96FA098.
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Accident occurred Saturday, July 13, 1996 in KETCHIKAN, AK
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/31/1997
Aircraft: Sikorsky CH-54A, registration: N541SB
Injuries: 1 Fatal,1 Serious.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot & copilot were on an external load, aero logging operation in a military surplus helicopter, lifting an estimated load of 18,000 lbs. Ground personnel heard a popping sound, then saw the tailrotor begin to slow down as the helicopter began to yaw/spin. It descended to sloping terrain in an area of cut logs. Postcrash exam of the tailrotor drive shaft revealed a separation at the number 5 bearing position. The shaft separation exhibited evidence of high heat & melting of adjoining shaft surfaces. The bearing & its housing were not recovered. The bearing had accrued 505 hrs of service, & was 1 of 2 bearing model numbers that were in use. The bearing was manufactured in 1991, & was purchased by the operator from surplus military supplies. The supplier (of the bearing to the operator) had performed an exterior exam of the bearing & marked 'relubed 10/95' on the bearing box. Exam of the remaining tailrotor drive shaft bearings revealed evidence of low grease fill, water & glycol contamination, & wear patterns consistent with misalignment. In civilian service, the bearing was an 'on condition' part. The operator established a service life of 1,000 hours for aero logging operations. A shelf life for the bearing was not established. The manufacturer indicated the bearing should support a 5 year shelf life. Other operators of the accident helicopter in aero logging reported similar examples of low grease fill & bearing contamination from water in both available models of bearing.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

failure of the number 5 tailrotor bearing. A factor relating to the accident was: the uneven/steep sloping terrain, where the pilot was forced to land. Possible factors were: inadequate handling/labeling of the 'relubed' bearing by intermediate supplyier(s), and/or insufficient shelf life/service limits for military surplus parts.

Full narrative available

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