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On February 10, 1996, at 1315 eastern standard time (est), a Bell 206B III, N2157J, piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed during a collision with trees and terrain while flying at a low altitude. The personal 14 CFR Part 91 flight was not operating on a flight plan. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The pilot was seriously injured, but succumbed to the cold weather conditions about 18 hours after the accident. The flight departed Harbor Springs, Michigan, at 1215 est.
The helicopter was declared missing on February 10, 1996. It was found on February 13, 1996, by the Emmet County, Michigan, Sheriff's Department and members of the Civl Air patrol.
An audio witness to the crash said he and a friend were about 1 mile west of the accident site when they heard a metallic crashing sound between 1300 and 1400 est. The witness said they were in a valley and noticed "...that you could see higher above the hills to the west than the hills to the east. From our location the tree tops on the hills to the east were obscured."
The witness gave a statement to a Civil Air Patrol (CAP) personnel. The report stated the witness reported "foggy" weather conditions at the time he heard the crashing noise. Another witness, located at the Harbor Springs Airport, Harbor Springs, Michigan, said she observed the helicopter "...on the ground for about 3 minutes and departed to the north at an altitude of about 300 to 400 feet." She said the visibility was 1 to 2 miles. Harbor Springs Airport is about 8 nautical miles south-southwest of the accident site.
The pilot obtained his helicopter rating on March 31, 1995. According to the pilot's logbook he had accumulated 60.6 hours in the Robinson R-22HP at that time. The pilot's logbook showed he received 29.2 hours of dual instruction in the Bell 206 III before operating the helicopter as pilot-in-command. The logbook showed his last dual instruction in the Bell 206 III was on January 28, 1996. The flight time was shown as cross country. According to the pilot's logbook, he had 108.0 hours total time in the Bell 206 III, 77.5 hours were as pilot-in-command.
N2157J was on a 100-hour inspection program. The airframe logbook showed an annual inspection completed on March 15, 1995. At that time N2157J had 2,004.2 hours on its airframe. According to the logbook, its last 100-hour inspection had taken place on December 2, 1995, when it had 2,114.5 hours total time. At the time of the accident, N2157J had 2,171.1 hours on its airframe. The engine had a total time of 2,171.1 hours on it at the time of the accident.
The Chicago Area Forecast for the accident date forecasted a low pressure center over northwestern Minnesota. The low was forecast to be centered over Lake Huron by 2400 est. A cold front associated with the low pressure area was forecast to move into northeastern Ohio and extend into eastern Tennessee by 2400 est.
The Area Forecast said an area, made up of Lake Superior, upper Michigan, northern Lake Michigan, northern lower Michigan, and northern Lake Huron could experience cloud ceilings of between 1,000 and 1,500 feet above ground level. The forecast showed 3 to 5 mile visibilities as possible. The visibility would be restricted by rain, light snow, light freezing rain, and light fog. The Terminal Forecast for Pellston, Michigan, was ammended four times, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's Flight Service Station records. The original forecast (issued at 0409 edt) showed occasional visibilities of 2 miles in rain and light fog after 0700 est. It showed a chance of 2 miles visibility and snow, light ice pellets, and light fog after 1600 edt. The second ammendment (issued at 0809 est) showed occasional visibilities of 2 miles with rain and light fog after 1000 est. The fourth ammendment (issued at 1318 est) showed a visibility of 5 miles in fog after 1318 est.
A review of the Aviation Sequence Reports for Pellston, Antrim, and Mackinac Island, Michigan, was conducted. Between 0852 est and 1352 est Pellston altimeter setting went from 29.54 to 29.39 inches of mercury. Pellston's visibility was 4 miles in fog at 0852 est and 3 miles in fog at 1352 est. The surface winds varied between 100 degrees at 7 knots and 130 degrees at 10 knots.
Antrim, Michigan is about 38 nautical miles south-southwest of the accident site. Between 0854 and 1354 est the Antrim altimeter setting went from 29.49 to 29.34 inches of mercury. Antrim's visibility varied between 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 miles during this period. The surface winds varied between calm and 160 degrees. The wind speed varied from calm to 9 knots.
Mackinac Island is about 19 nautical miles north-northeast of the accident site. Between 0855 and 1255 est Mackinac's altimeter went from 29.55 and 29.43 inches of mercury. The ceiling and visibility went from 200 overcast and 7 miles too partially obscured with a measured ceiling of 200 overcast and less than 1/4 mile visibility. The winds were from 100-110 degrees at 10 knots with gusts to 16 knots.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
N2157J was located about 1/2-mile north of Robinson Road and about 1 mile east of Pleasant View Road in Emmet County, Michigan. The accident site was on top of a hill surrounded by a dense growth of trees. The trees were about 40 to 50 feet high. The accident site's elevation was about 900 feet above mean sea level. Snow at the site varied in depth between 3 and 5 feet.
The helicopter was laying on its right side heading 080 degrees. About 90 percent of the helicopter was coverd with 6 inches of snow. The middle 50 percent of the tailboom was wedged into a tree about 40 feet above the snow surface. Tops of trees about 30 to 50 feet from N2157J's wreckage were broken off. The tail rotor, gearbox, and the tailcone's vertical fin were found about 10 feet south of N2157J's remains.
N2157J's left landing skid had separated from the fuselage and was lying over the fuselage's rear section next to the engine compartment. Tree bark residue was found on the nonskid paint on the skids. The left door frame and door were broken free of the airframe. It was resting on the left front seat. The main rotor blade was found in three main sections about 10 feet south of the helicopter. Tree bark residue was found on the leading edges of the rotor blade. The rotor mast had separated from the transmission shaft and was attached to one section of the main rotor blade. The auxillary fuel tank was about 2/3 full.
The engine anti-ice control switch was found in the "Off" position. The auto-ignition switch was found in the "Armed" position. The windshield defogger control was found in the "Off" position. The fuel selector valve was in the "On" position. The throttle setting was found at the 90 percent "Full" power setting. The annunciator panel lights were examined and showed no indication of filament stretching that would be conducive with hot elements.
N2157J's flight controls were continuous and operable up to the hydraulic cylinders. The control tubes had fractured ends whose surfaces were dull grey color and had shear lips. The main rotor transmission and tail rotor gear box rotated freely. The short shaft, from the engine to the tail rotor shaft coupling, had rotational scoring on it. The co-pilot's anti-torque pedal was found in the full "Left" position. A mark on top edge of the pedal shaft coinsided with an indentation found on the metal shround opening the shaft passed through. The cyclic was found in the full "Up" position.
The engine had been shifted about 2 inches to the right and was still attached to the airframe. The N1 and N2 disks rotated freely. Rotational continuity was observed throughout the engine and gearbox. Fuel was found in the fuel nozzle lines up to the nozzles. There were compressor and turbine blade rub signatures on the blade ends and inside their respective cases.
Examination of the outer combustion case's interior revealed small, randomly positioned, pieces of a silver colored material inside it. This material was also found in the discharge tubes. The first stage nozzle shield's surface had various sized silver colored spatter areas on its surface. Oil from the engine gear box was examined and no foreign materials were observed. The chip detectors were clean.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The pilot's autopsy was conducted on February 15, 1996, at Michigan Forensic Medicine, P.C., Grand Rapids, Michigan. The pilot's toxicology examination was conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aero Medical Institue. The report was negative carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles, and drugs.
The Emmet County Coroner stated the pilot had survived the accident but succumbed to the cold weather. Examination of the helicopter and immediate area surrounding it revealed no cold weather survival gear such as clothing, gloves, enclosure, or heat producing equipment. The sheriff department's representative stated the pilot was clothed in a light weight flight suit. An operable hand held transceiver was found in the helicopter's passenger compartment. The helicopter was not equipped with an emergency locator transmitter.
According to local authorities, the pilot had survived collision. A representative from the department said foot prints making a circular pathway from the helicopter and returning to it were found. The representative said the tracks extended about 400 yards from the helicopter.
According to the owner of the fixed base operation (FBO) where the pilot based his helicopter, he asked the pilot "..if he had checked the weather." The FBO owner said the pilot responded he had and that if the weather was bad he would turn around and come back. A worker at the FBO observed the pilot using the "WSI Pilotbrief II system... for about 2 to 3 minutes." A subsequent investigation into weather breifing services available to the pilot revealed no record of a weather briefing by the pilot.
The wreckage was released to Chief Randolph L. Burke, Pellston, michigan, Fire Chief, on February 17, 1996.