On January 11, 1996, at 1600 hours Pacific standard time, a Bell 47-G5 helicopter, N1309X, crashed shortly after reloading a fertilizer broadcaster (bucket) from a loading platform near Pope Valley, California, while in a hover. The pilot was conducting a visual flight rules external load aerial application flight. The helicopter, registered to and operated by North Coast Helicopter Service, Napa, California, was destroyed by impact forces and the postimpact fire. The certificated commercial pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The pilot had completed numerous aerial application flights and the departure time on the accident flight was not determined.

A ground witness told a Napa County Sheriff's deputy that the pilot returned from the field and hovered the helicopter over the loading platform. He lowered the broadcaster and the ground crew loaded it with fertilizer. He said that the pilot raised the broadcaster and then turned the helicopter toward the downhill slope.

The witness said that as the helicopter began to depart, a strong gust of wind pushed the helicopter back toward the loading platform and the cable from the broadcaster caught the edge of the truck. The helicopter made an abrupt left turn and descended to the ground and exploded.

An FAA airworthiness inspector from the Sacramento [California] Flight Standards District Office conducted the on-scene investigation. The inspector reported confirmed the ground witnesses statement that the helicopter's cables became entangled with the truck. He said that the surface winds were calm. He also said that the postaccident investigation disclosed no evidence of any preimpact malfunctions or failures.

The Napa County Sheriff/Coroner's Office conducted the post mortem examination on the pilot. Toxicology examinations were not performed because of the unavailability of suitable specimens.

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