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On August 12, 1994, at about 2105 eastern daylight time, N124NH, Flight 44, a Bell 206-L4 helicopter, operated by National Helicopter Corporation of America (NHC), Farmingdale, New York, crashed in Whiting, New Jersey. The pilot and the two passengers were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed. No instrument flight plan was filed. The departure point was New York City, New York. The destination was Atlantic City, New Jersey. The flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 135.
According to the company dispatcher of National Helicopter, there were two pilots on night shift that day. He stated that, "Douglas Roesch was assigned to this flight because he had started his shift later and had more break time....I asked Roesch to telephone me from the 34th Street Heliport (6N5) at 1930 for a weather briefing and other details of the charter....Roesch called me at approximately 1930 for weather and charter information. I discussed the weather with him and faxed him a copy of the DUAT printout." The flight departed 6N5 at 2030 edt.
The flight proceeded en route, during which time, the pilot was in radio contact with McQuire Air Force Base Radar Approach Control, a company pilot on another flight, and the company dispatcher.
Between 2044 and 2103 edt, the pilot was in contact with approach control, receiving VFR flight following service. At 2046, he requested and was approved to climb to 2000 feet. At 2103 edt, the pilot radioed that he would be turning around, indicating "we have a little visibility problems here with fog." This was the last known radio transmission received by approach control from the pilot. Attempts to reestablish communication with the pilot were unsuccessful. Radar contact with the flight was lost 10 miles south of Lakehurst, New Jersey at about 2105 edt.
At about 2045 edt, the captain of NHC Flight 8, which was on a sightseeing flight over New York City, overheard radio communications between Flight 44 and the company dispatcher. According to the captain of Flight 8:
At approximately 2045 edt, (the pilot) Roesch contacted operations on company frequency 131.27 to express some concern and discomfort with weather conditions he was encountering en route to Atlantic City. Roesch reported that he was approximately 5 miles south of Colt Neck VOR at an altitude of 1500 feet. Roesch went on to say that he was encountering ground fog and he had no visual reference to the ground, but that the visibility at his altitude was adequate. Roesch then requested that operations give him some weather reports to see if these conditions would persist for the entire flight. The report given to Roesch from operations did not include any fog and were not very useful to Roesch in analyzing the situation. At this time, Roesch expressed some hesitation to completing the charter.
Overhearing the conversation and sensing Roesch was unsure to proceed, I contacted him on the radio and suggested he climb to 2000 feet and try to contact Atlantic City International Airport and request their current weather conditions. Roesch agreed to the suggestion and communications was not established until 5 minutes later.
At that time, I contacted Roesch again on 131.27 to check his progress. Roesch responded that he was unable to contact Atlantic City and that he was still feeling uncomfortable with the weather. I responded by telling Roesch to turn around and come back. Operations, who was monitoring the frequency, agreed that it was Roesch's call and that he could turn around. At this point, Roesch agreed to turn around, but then added that he was going to try to radio Atlantic City one more time.
After another 5 to 10 minutes, I called Roesch once again to check his progress. Roesch reported that the weather had cleared up and he was proceeding to Atlantic City, only expressing mild concern at being able to return back home. At this point, Roesch's countenance had changed from being worried and stressed to being relaxed and confident.
After another 10 minutes, I tried to contact Roesch again to check his progress. The ensuing conversation took place.
Mansell: Doug, you up on 0.27? Roesch: Eric, I'm going inadvertent (Distressed Voice) Mansell: Doug, are you kidding? Roesch: Eric, I'm going inverted. (Panicked Voice) Mansell: Doug, are you kidding? Are you kidding? Are you all right? Roesch: Eric! (Panicked Voice)
The above conversation happened very quickly with no gaps in time. It was rapid fire. It ended with Roesch yelling my name. No communication took place after this. I extended the sightseeing flight in order to try to regain communication. We landed 5 to 10 minutes later, and pulled the circuit breaker on the cockpit voice recorder to save the tape.
There were witnesses who saw and some who heard the helicopter before and when the accident occurred. One witness reported:
I was sitting in my front yard around (2050 edt). About 10 minutes later, I heard the helicopter flying very low in what I thought was an east to west direction and directly over my house. I looked up, but could not see it and I thought he had his navigational lights off. I stopped looking up when suddenly I heard to my right, a sound as if the rotor was striking something.
As I looked to my right, I thought I heard a muffled explosion and immediately saw a yellow or orange glow coming from that direction . . . The cloud ceiling was approximately 1500 to 2000 feet, and it was cloudy and muggy. The visibility was approximately 3/4 to 1 mile. It was very dark. As the helicopter flew over my neighbors house and back yard, everything sounded normal. From the time I first heard the helicopter to the time he crashed, it was approximately 15 to 20 seconds.
A second witness was outside her home when she heard the helicopter fly overhead. According to the witness:
. . . Though it sounded close and seemed to be flying low , I could not identify where it was in the sky because I saw no lights. I did not pay a lot of attention because we get a lot of air traffic around here, but all of a sudden, the motor noise changed to a slower sputtering sound. As I was trying to follow the noise, I saw a large orange glow begin to fill the sky. Then there was silence and I knew the copter had gone down. I heard no explosion, just the change in motor noise and the orange glow lighting the sky . . .
Another witness was also outside his home talking to the neighbor at about 2100 edt when he heard the helicopter flying low overhead. The witness stated:
. . . There were no running lights. We stopped what we were doing and followed the sound. We knew he was in trouble due to the sound it was making. The sounds from the props was loud and slow sound. As it passed, it started making a sound like a car backfiring. They were slow at first, then became rapid, then there was a final loud pop, and we saw a large flame in the sky and then no sound at all . . .
The accident occurred at night, about 39 degrees 54 minutes North latitude and 74 degrees 22 minutes West longitude.
The pilot, age 34, was hired as a co-pilot on the Sikorsky SK58T by National Helicopter Corporation of America on March 29, 1993, and was upgraded to captain on the Bell 206-L4 April 18, 1994. He held a commercial pilot certificate for helicopter operations. The pilot did not possess an instrument rating. His most recent FAA second class medical certificate was issued on April 29, 1994, with the limitation: "Holder shall wear correcting lenses while exercising the privileges of his airman certificate." National Helicopter Corporation records indicate that at the time of the accident, the pilot had accumulated over 1417 hours total flight time. He had logged over 270 hours as captain and 27 hours as co-pilot. Before that, he flew Robinson R22 helicopters and had accumulated over 580 hours as pilot in command.
The pilot received his initial ground school and proficiency check in the Sikorsky SK58T as a co-pilot on March 30, 1993. The pilot was unsatisfactory on the rate of turn and altitude control during turns. The pilot was retrained and was found satisfactory. The pilot completed his flight training in the Bell 206-L4 on April 18, 1994. According to the records the pilot lost altitude during steep turns and received additional training. He was found satisfactory after the training.
The 1994 year model Bell 206-L4, serial no. 52089, was equipped with an Allison 250-C30P engine, serial no. CAE895767. The aircraft had over 274 hours including 20 hours since the last 100 hour inspection. This inspection was completed on August 7, 1994.
The 2055 hour surface weather observation for Mc Guire Air Force Base, about 15 miles north of the accident site was as follows:
"Sky condition, 1000 feet scattered; visibility, 5 miles in haze; temperature, 76 degrees (F); dew point, 73 degrees (F); wind condition, 120 degrees at 3 knots; and altimeter, 30.17 inches."
The pilot on initial contact requested flight following with Mc Guire Air Force Base Radar Approach Control which was approved. At 2046 edt the pilot requested to climb to 2000 feet MSL, this was approved and was required to maintain visual flight rules (VFR). The pilot shortly thereafter at 2047 edt requested, "...a heading to fly off of." At 2047 edt Mc Guire gave the pilot a heading of 240 degrees to fly to Atlantic City. At 2103 edt the pilot radioed and advised the controller that he was turning around as he had a visibility problem with fog, and he requested a heading. A heading of 360 degrees was issued. At 2105 edt the controller tried to contact the pilot as radar contact was lost ten miles south of Lakehurst.
COCKPIT VOICE RECORDER
The helicopter was not equipped with a cockpit voice recorder (CVR). NHC Flight 8 was equipped with a Fairchild model GA-100 CVR, s/n 01992, which was brought to the Safety Board's audio laboratory. The duration of the recording was about 33 minutes. Only the radio information between Flight 8 and Flight 44 was transcribed. The intercockpit conversations between the crewmembers was not transcribed. A transcript of the recording is contained in the NTSB CVR Group Chairman's Factual Report.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The helicopter crashed in a wooded area near Whiting, New Jersey. The aircraft had suffered massive destruction and was consumed by fire. The main wreckage impacted the ground in a near vertical attitude and made a crater fourteen feet in diameter and six feet deep. It was oriented on a magnetic heading of 360 degrees. The wreckage was examined at the accident site, and was removed to Dawn Aeronautics in New Castle, Delaware, the following day for further examination.
The examination of the landing gear revealed the forward section of the skids were impaled in the ground. The aft cross tube fractured two places on the left side above the saddle. The forward cross tube melted. Both skid tubes were fractured 12 feet aft of tow of skid and forward of the saddle. Both cross tubes separated from hardpoint mounts and were destroyed by fire.
Examination of the main rotor and blade assemblies revealed one of the blades was fractured 36 inches from the root and had fire damage. A seven foot section was crushed, and the remaining outboard section was destroyed by fire. The other blade remained attached to the yoke with aft body fractures from the spar. The tip was torn eight inches inboard from aft to forward. The blade was twisted 20 degrees. The vertical fin was destroyed by fire.
The main rotor gear box (transmission) and main rotor mast were examined. The examination revealed the transmission assembly was intact. The main rotor mast was bent ten degrees at the top through the collective sleeve and was damaged by fire. The rotor brake was bent rearward about 30 degrees. The transmission mount was fractured.
The tail boom, main drive shaft and tail rotor shaft were destroyed by fire. Examination of the tail rotor system revealed both blades were bent 90 degrees inward.
The main rotor shaft, swashplate, and pitch change links were examined. The pitch change links rod ends were fractured in overload and fire damaged. All tubes of the control rods melted and all rod end clevises fractured in overload and sustained fire damage. The pitch horns were damaged by fire.
The engine was examined in New Castle, Delaware, on August 15, 1994. The examination revealed crushing to the air inlet, diffuser and the compressor. The compressor separated from the rest of the engine and there was evidence of FOD damage. The engine accessories were destroyed by fire.
The first stage guide vanes revealed evidence of FOD damage.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy of the pilot was done by Dr. Hydow Park, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Toms River, New Jersey, on August 14, 1994. Toxicological tests did not detect alcohol, drugs, or carbon monoxide.
The aircraft wreckage was released to Charles Bowman of Peter Mc Breen & Associates, the owner's insurance representative on August 15, 1994.