NTSB Identification: NYC06MA131.
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Nonscheduled 14 CFR
Accident occurred Tuesday, May 30, 2006 in Washington, DC
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/11/2008
Aircraft: Eurocopter EC-135P1, registration: N601FH
Injuries: 1 Fatal,3 Serious.

NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot reported that, during his first approach to the hospital helipad, the helicopter "shuffled," and the No. 1 engine rpm increased. The pilot stated that he increased collective pitch, reduced the throttle on the No. 1 engine, and aborted the landing. He noted that the No. 1 engine was no longer controlled by the full authority digital engine control (FADEC) system and that he had to control it manually. The pilot twice overflew the helipad, and, while maneuvering for another approach, he lost control of the helicopter, and it descended and struck a tree and the ground. Examination of the throttles, throttle linkages, engines, control systems, cockpit display system (CDS), and FADEC units revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical anomalies.

Postaccident testing of the engines and analysis of data retrieved from the CDS and FADEC units revealed that the accident pilot had inadvertently moved the No. 1 throttle out of its neutral detent, placing the engine in manual mode and out of FADEC control. Although the pilot recognized that the No. 1 engine was no longer controlled by the FADEC, he responded with further manual throttle adjustments and did not perform the published procedure to restore FADEC control to the engine. The data showed that, as the pilot continued to manually control the No. 1 engine, he subsequently moved the No. 2 throttle out of its detent, placing that engine also in manual mode and out of FADEC control. With neither engine under FADEC control, the pilot attempted control of the rotor rpm while controlling both engines manually. This configuration resulted in a high-workload scenario in which it would be particularly challenging for the pilot to control the helicopter during the maneuvering and approach-to-land phases of flight.

The accident helicopter was the only EC-135P1 CDS variant in the operator's fleet. Its engines, its displays, and its procedure for restoring FADEC control differed from the EC-135 variant in which the accident pilot was trained. According to the manufacturer's training guidelines, differences training is recommended before a pilot who is trained on another variant flies the EC-135P1 CDS. However, the investigation revealed that the operator provided the accident pilot only about an hour of formal differences training in the EC-135P1 CDS, and there was no evidence that the training adequately covered that variant's FADEC-restore procedures and other issues pertinent to flight safety. The pilot had accumulated about 914 hours of flight experience in EC-135s, with about 45 hours in the EC-135P1 CDS variant.

The accident was not the first indication to the operator that pilots who were trained in another variant experienced difficulties with the accident helicopter. According to one other pilot and the accident pilot, they each previously experienced events involving loss of FADEC control in the accident helicopter (in November 2005 and March 2006, respectively) but completed successful landings. The operator determined no mechanical explanation for the events and did not report, and was not required to report, them to its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) principal operations and maintenance inspectors. The other pilot reported that, at the time of his November 2005 event, he was untrained in the EC-135P1 CDS and was completely unfamiliar with the procedure required to restore FADEC control. That pilot reported that, during his event, he oversped the helicopter's engines and the main rotor, and, as a result, the operator removed the helicopter from service, conducted inspections of the engines and main rotor system, and determined that differences training was needed for the EC-135P1 CDS; however, the operator failed to adequately provide such training. Because the FAA had no knowledge of the previous events with the accident helicopter, it had no indication to suspect that the differences training implemented by the operator was deficient.

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

The operator's inadequate training program and the pilot's failure to maintain control of the helicopter following his inadvertent disabling of the No. 1 and then the No. 2 engine full authority digital engine control system.

Full narrative available

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