NTSB Identification: FTW04TA237.
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Accident occurred Wednesday, September 15, 2004 in Beaumont, TX
Probable Cause Approval Date: 07/07/2005
Aircraft: Bell OH-58C, registration: N9273T
Injuries: 1 Fatal,1 Minor.

NTSB investigators may have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this public aircraft accident report.

A single-engine public use helicopter was destroyed when it impacted water while maneuvering over a lake at night during a search mission. The 2,475-hour commercial pilot reported that he had set the altimeter to the current barometric pressure setting of 29.75 inches of Mercury prior to departure. Then, he and the pilot-rated passenger departed and made several passes over the lake at 500 feet, then descended to 300 feet for better visual reference of an object on the water. The crew still had difficulty identifying the object and the pilot descended to 200 feet. The pilot reported that there was absolutely no reference to the horizon, so he told the passenger that he would be "on the instruments." As the pilot made a right hand turn, he said the altimeter indicated a slow descent from 200 feet, so he pulled back slightly on the cyclic and increased collective pitch to start a smooth, climbing right turn. As the pilot did so, the passenger shouted, "look out!" The pilot pulled the cyclic back sharply and looked out the windscreen. The pilot thought that he was about to strike a tower because the altimeter indicated an altitude between 150 and 175 feet. The pilot then saw a "black wall" through the windscreen and they collided with the water. Examination of the altimeter revealed that it was not impact damaged, but did exhibit water and corrosion damage. It displayed a barometric pressure setting of 29.66 inches of Mercury and an altitude of approximately 110 feet. Due to corrosion, the unit could not be bench tested. The face of the instrument was removed, and excessive corrosion was observed inside the unit and around the gears. The barrel shaft (turn knob) was locked, but it was engaged to the barrel. The number-wheels were also intact and engaged. According to the aircraft checklist, the altimeter was to be set and checked by the pilot prior to take-off.

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

the pilot's failure to properly set the altimeter prior to departure, which resulted in collision with the water (lake) during a search mission. A factor was the dark night.

Full narrative available

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