NTSB Identification: LAX02FA173.
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Accident occurred Wednesday, May 22, 2002 in Mammoth Lakes, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 07/23/2003
Aircraft: Robinson R22 Beta, registration: N7194J
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

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 helicopter impacted trees and the rising mountainous terrain approximately 7.8 miles from the airport. Prior to departure, the helicopter's main and auxiliary fuel tanks were topped off with fuel. Witnesses observed the pilot and passenger board the helicopter, and reported that the engine start was normal. The engine idled for two minutes, the rpm increased to "full power". The helicopter lifted off the ground "approximately 3 to 4 feet, and then set down very controlled." The engine rpm decreased for a few seconds, then back to "full power". The helicopter lifted off the ground, turned to the west, and moved about 30 feet to "the yellow X (a closed taxiway), and set down very hard." One witness stated that "[it] seemed like they had difficulty trying to get off the ground." After a few seconds, the helicopter lifted off again dragging the forward portion of the skids on the taxiway, departed to the west and "did not gain a lot of altitude." The maximum allowable gross weight of the helicopter was 1,370 lbs. Considering the occupants, miscellaneous baggage, and full of fuel, the helicopter's gross weight, at the time of departure, was 1,459.25 lbs. The density altitude at the departure airport and the accident site was calculated at 8,702 feet and 10,681 feet, respectively. According to the approved rotorcraft flight manual, the in-ground-effect (IGE) hover ceiling versus gross weight, and the out-of-ground-effect (OGE) hover ceiling versus gross weight performance limits were not available beyond 1,370 lbs. gross weight. The performance specifications had been approved up to the maximum allowable gross weight. The engine was test run on the airframe, and no anomalies or discrepancies were noted.

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

The pilot's poor decision to continue the flight into the rising mountainous terrain, and subsequent failure to maintain clearance with the trees. Contributing factors were rising mountainous terrain, the high density altitude, and the exceeded weight and balance and performance capability of the helicopter.

Full narrative available

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