NTSB Identification: FTW03FA118.
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Accident occurred Thursday, March 27, 2003 in Broadus, TX
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/29/2006
Aircraft: Bell 407, registration: N175PA
Injuries: 2 Fatal,3 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.

While establishing a 125-foot out of ground effect hover during a search and recovery mission of Columbia Space Shuttle debris, the helicopter lost power without warning, descended rapidly into a forest with 80-foot tall trees, and impacted the ground. There were no reported radio communications or distress calls. During post accident component examinations, while performing the rigging procedure for the Hydro-Mechanical Unit (HMU) during an engine test cell run, anomalies were noted with the actual position of the throttle Position Lever Angle (PLA) and the readings obtained from the Electronic Control Unit (ECU). During the test cell run, the Full Authority Digital Electronic Control System (FADEC) controlled engine operated erratically in the Auto mode when rigged with its original Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and (HMU). The engine control was then changed from Auto to Manual mode, and the engine responded to throttle input as required; however, the ECU readings were erratic. After a slave ECU was installed, the engine operated with similar erratic readings. A slave HMU was installed, and the engine operated normally without erratic readings. The ECU's nonvolatile memory was downloaded, and revealed no faults on the accident flight. Extensive electrical and mechanical testing of the HMU revealed severe signal fallout on the PLA signal, which was found to be random in location, bi-directional, and present during both rotational and stationary operation of the PLA input of the HMU. The source of the fallout was traced to the HMU potentiometer. The PLA potentiometer examinations consisted of mechanical measurements, electrical testing, inspection of the conductive epoxy joints, and microscopic examination of the three lead wire connections to the potentiometer elements. The PLA potentiometer was found faulty due to insulation breakdown between the rotor and shaft, resulting in a single-point failure that induced erratic fuel metering to the engine. As a result of the findings from this investigation, the Safety Board issued four safety recommendations (A-03-18 through A-03-21), on May 27, 2003, to the FAA that addressed the PLA potentiometer deficiencies.

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

The partial loss of engine power due to erratic fuel flow metering to the engine resulting from the single point failure of the PLA potentiometer in the hydro-mechanical fuel control unit. A contributing factor was the lack of suitable terrain to execute a forced landing.

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