NTSB Identification: LAX05FA189.
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Accident occurred Saturday, May 28, 2005 in Lucerne Valley, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/31/2007
Aircraft: Robinson R44, registration: N7015Q
Injuries: 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.

The helicopter impacted level terrain and rolled onto its left side while maneuvering during a low-level photo flight. The pilot was flying southbound along a racecourse on a photo flight when he made a hard 180-degree turn, and lost control of the helicopter. As the helicopter began a spin to the right, the pilot noted a loss of rpm and altitude. He asked the certified flight instructor (CFI)/safety pilot to take the flight controls. As the CFI took control of the helicopter, he realized that the rpm's were decaying and that the helicopter was too low to recover the rpm. He attempted to cushion the impact with the collective. Both pilots reported that there were no preimpact mechanical anomalies with the airframe or engine. No evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunction was found during the post accident investigation that would have precluded normal operation. During the accident flight, the helicopter was running approximately 131 pounds over the maximum gross weight for an Out of Ground Effect hover for the existing atmospheric conditions. The helicopter was being operated in a high density altitude environment, which was computed to be 7,350 feet mean sea level. The pilot received his rotorcraft helicopter rating 7 days prior to the accident. He had approximately 77 hours of total rotorcraft flight time at the time of the accident. The helicopter manufacturer indicated that photo flights were a high risk phase of flight and issued a safety notice SN-34. Safety Notice SN-34 recommended at least 500 hours and extensive training in both low rpm and settling-with-power recovery techniques prior to flying photo shoot type flights.

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

the pilot's failure to maintain adequate main rotor rpm and directional control while maneuvering at low altitude. Contributing factors in the accident were the helicopter's gross weight in excess of the maximum hover out of ground effect limit, a high density altitude, and the pilot's lack of overall experience with regard to low rpm and settling-with-power recovery techniques.

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