NTSB Identification: WPR13FA054
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, November 25, 2012 in Corona, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/07/2014
Aircraft: ROBINSON HELICOPTER COMPANY R44 II, registration: N4204A
Injuries: 1 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 pilot had positioned the helicopter facing toward a fuel island and had added about 40 gallons of fuel. A review of a security video showed that the helicopter cabin was partially under a circular metal canopy that covered the island. After fueling and while still under the canopy, the helicopter lifted off, and the pilot immediately made a right turn. After turning nearly 180 degrees, the helicopter pitched forward, and the tail and main rotor blades rose and contacted the metal canopy. The helicopter then began to flail while turning and subsequently came to rest after turning 180 degrees back to its original direction. Several seconds later, a fire and explosion occurred. A postaccident examination of the airframe and engine revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.
An review of the autopsy report revealed that the pilot’s death was caused by thermal-related injuries and that he most likely would have survived the accident if no fire had occurred. The helicopter manufacturer issued several service bulletins advising owners to retrofit R44 all-aluminum fuel tanks with bladder-type tanks to improve the R44 fuel system’s resistance to a postaccident fuel leak and the potential for a subsequent fire. The helicopter had not been retrofitted with these modifications. The NTSB has issued Safety Recommendation A-14-1 to the Federal Aviation Administration to require the retrofit.

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

The pilot's failure to maintain clearance between the helicopter’s main rotor blades and the metal canopy of a fuel island.

Full narrative available

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