On February 12, 1999, about 1720, eastern standard time, an Aerospatiale 355 helicopter, N355MF, was destroyed when it impacted a house in Toledo, Ohio, after the pilot inadvertently entered instrument meteorological conditions. The certificated commercial pilot, flight doctor, and flight nurse sustained serious injuries. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and a company flight plan was filed for positioning flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
The pilot stated that he preflighted the helicopter about 1655, checked weather, and then departed St. Vincent Hospital, Toledo, Ohio, about 1710. The purpose of the flight was to transport a patient from Williams County Hospital, Bryan, Ohio, to the Medical College of Ohio, Toledo, Ohio, then return to St. Vincent. When the pilot departed St. Vincent he estimated the visibility was 2 to 3 miles, and the ceiling was 800 to 900 feet. He attempted, but was unable to receive the automatic terminal information service (ATIS) for Toledo Express Airport, Toledo, Ohio.
After departing, and approximately 5 miles to the west of St. Vincent, the pilot contacted air traffic control (ATC) and requested Toledo Express's current weather. ATC responded with 1/4 mile in snow showers. With this information and the current flight condition, the pilot elected to abort the flight. He executed a 180 degree turn, and proceeded towards St. Vincent. While en route to St. Vincent, the pilot received a report from a company pilot operating between St. Vincent and Williams County. That pilot reported 2 to 3 miles of visibility and one or two snow squalls that could easily be circumnavigated. In addition, ATC contacted the pilot and advised him that the weather at Toledo Express had improved to 3 miles of visibility.
With this information, the pilot turned the helicopter back towards Williams County. After establishing the helicopter on course, the pilot felt the weather was still inadequate, so he initiated another 180 degree turn for St. Vincent.
While en route to St. Vincent, dispatch radioed the pilot and informed him that snow showers were preventing them from seeing across the "ramp." In addition, a company pilot suggested he climb and execute the VOR 4 approach at Metcalf Field, Toledo, Ohio, but without an autopilot, and only a basic instrument package the accident pilot did not feel comfortable with that option. Instead, the pilot initiated a descent to land in an open area.
While descending, and between 300 and 75 feet agl, the helicopter entered IMC. The pilot declared an emergency with ATC, and continued to descend. Approximately 60 feet agl, the pilot made visual contact with a 50 to 60 foot tree. He applied aft cyclic, and the bottom of the helicopter impacted the tree. After the impact, the helicopter continued on its descent trajectory and struck a house approximately 30 feet from the base of the tree. The helicopter came to rest upright, and partially in the house.
Examination of Toledo Approach Control's communication tapes revealed that when the pilot was approximately 8 miles to the east of Toledo Express, he requested the current ATIS for Toledo Express. ATC advised the pilot that Toledo was, currently winds 250 degrees at 20 knots gusting to 23 knots, 1/4 mile visibility in heavy snow and freezing fog. Cloud conditions were 1,600 feet broken, 2,800 feet broken, and 4,100 feet overcast. Approximately 20 seconds later, ATC advised the pilot that Toledo had improved to better then 3 miles of visibility. He responded by advising ATC that he had executed a 180 degree turn, and was heading back towards St. Vincent, but since weather conditions had improved he would continue the flight. About 1 minute and 40 seconds later the pilot radioed ATC, and request permission to transition Toledo class "C" airspace, and the ATC controller assigned a transponder code of 4246. About 47 seconds later the pilot radioed that he was proceeding back to St. Vincent.
Approximately 4 minutes after advising ATC that he was proceeding back to St. Vincent, the pilot reported inadvertent IFR, and requested IFR handling to Toledo Metcalf. ATC assigned a transponder code of 4247, and tried to confirm the pilot's requested destination. About 1 minute later, the last transmission received form the pilot was recorded. In that transmission, he requested ATC standby.
According to the flight doctor, once they cancelled the mission for the second time and where proceeding back to St. Vincent, the snow showers became very intense. He added that, "I have never seen it snow that hard before." The doctor continued by saying he lost sight of the ground for approximately two minutes prior to the accident. During that time, the "helicopter was pivoting back and forth about its tail." The doctor regained visual contact with the ground just before impacting the tree, and noted that the helicopter was in a "nose low attitude and diagonal."
According to the flight nurse, while en route to St. Vincent, "things started to get worse, then everything went white." After entering IMC the flight nurse noticed the pilot increased collective. She added that, "the pilot was fighting the helicopter with both hands." Approximately 30 seconds after entering IMC and a "split" second before impact, the nurse regained visual contact with the ground. The helicopter then impacted the tree and house in a nose high attitude. The nurse was setting to the left rear of the pilot with her right foot behind the collective. The flight doctor was to her left next to the left window, and both the nurse and doctor were facing forward.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a rotorcraft helicopter rating, and an instrument helicopter rating. His last second class medical was dated February 25, 1998. The pilot stated that he had logged approximately 3,200 hours of total flight experience with 600 hours in an Aerospatiale 350, 16 hours in an Aerospatiale 355, and 100 hours in instrument conditions. He added that the cockpit configuration for both helicopters is the same except for throttle position, and that flight characteristics are identical except at a hover. The pilot's last biennial flight review was conducted on November 6, 1998, in an Aerospatiale 355.
The 1232, Toledo Express terminal area forecast called for winds 240 degrees at 16 knots gusting to 25 knots, 6 miles of visibility, and 3,000 feet broken. After 1600, winds 230 at 15 knots gusting to 25 knots. The forecast included temporary conditions for 3 miles of visibility in light snow showers.
The 1407, amendment to the forecast, called for winds 250 degrees at 18 knots gusting to 28 knots, 2,000 feet scattered, and 3,500 feet overcast until 1900. The forecast included temporary conditions for 5 miles of visibility in light snow showers, 2,000 feet broken, and 3,500 feet overcast between 1600 and 1900.
The 1709, amendment to the forecast called for winds 250 degrees at 18 knots gusting to 28 knots, 6 miles of visibility, 2,000 feet scattered, and 3,500 feet overcast until 2100. The amendment included temporary conditions from 1700 to 2100, for 1 mile of visibility in light snow showers, and 1,500 feet overcast.
The 1748, amendment to the forecast called for winds 250 degrees at 18 knots gusting to 28 knots, 6 miles of visibility in light snow showers, 2,000 feet scattered, and 3,500 feet overcast until 2100, with temporary conditions for 1/2 mile of visibility in snow showers and freezing fog, and 1,500 feet overcast from 1800 to 2100.
Surface observation for Toledo Express were as follows:
1551 - winds 230 degrees at 15 knots, 10 miles of visibility, a few clouds at 2,900 feet, 3,700 feet broken, and 6,000 feet overcast.
1651 - winds 250 degrees at 17 knots gusting to 21 knots, 4 miles of visibility in light snow, 3,100 feet broken, 4,100 feet broken, and 5,000 feet overcast.
1657 - winds 250 at 19 knots, 2 1/2 miles of visibility in light snow, 2,700 feet broken, 4,100 feet broken, and 5,500 feet overcast.
1659 - winds 240 degrees at 18 knots gusting to 23 knots, 1 1/4 miles of visibility in light snow, 2,200 feet broken, 3,100 feet broken, and 4,100 feet overcast.
1703 - winds 250 degrees at 20 knots gusting to 23 knots, 1/4 mile of visibility in heavy snow and freezing fog, 1,600 feet broken, 2,800 feet broken, and 4,100 feet overcast.
1710 - winds 250 at 12 knots gusting to 23 knots, 1/4 mile of visibility in snow and freezing fog, 900 feet broken, 1,800 feet broken, and 4,800 feet overcast.
1714 - winds 240 degrees at 12 knots, 1/2 mile of visibility in light snow and freezing fog, 1,000 feet scattered, 1,800 feet broken, and 4,800 feet overcast.
According to the company's operating specifications, day local area weather minimums were, ceiling 500 feet and visibility 1 mile. Night minimums were, ceiling 500 feet and visibility 2 miles.