On February 19, 1997, about 0202 eastern standard time, an Enstrom 280C, N51662, was substantially damaged as it impacted the ground after taking off from a field near Lucasville, Ohio. The certificated commercial pilot/owner was seriously injured, and the passenger received minor injuries. The helicopter, registered to Life Ambulance Service, Inc., Portsmouth, Ohio, was utilized by the Scioto County Sheriff's Department for an official law enforcement search mission. Night visual meteorological conditions existed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated from the Greater Portsmouth Regional Airport, Portsmouth, Ohio, about 0135.

About 0030, the pilot was notified that his helicopter was needed for a search mission. The helicopter landed in a field about 0155 to pickup a sheriff's deputy, who was to assist as a spotter during the search. Witnesses stated that the helicopter, loaded with the pilot, the sheriff's deputy and another passenger, took off and attained about 5 feet agl. The helicopter landed, the passenger exited, and then, the helicopter took off. It climbed to about 150 feet agl, made a semi-circle or a turn downwind, and traveled approximately 200 feet when it was seen descending vertically into a wooded area.

A group of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) watched as the helicopter took off. One EMT stated that he thought the helicopter was returning to the field. It was about 50 feet above the trees and he could hear the engine running. He saw the helicopter start to drop and heard it hit the trees. When the EMT's and another deputy arrived at the crash site, the rotor blades were stopped, but the engine was still running. With fuel leaking from the helicopter, the deputy turned off the engine, while the EMT's extracted the occupants from the wreckage.

A Federal Aviation Administration Inspector, and representatives from the helicopter and the engine manufacturers examined the wreckage on February 26, 1997. Their examination revealed that there were no pre-impact malfunctions or discontinuities in the airframe or flight control systems. No anomalies were found with the engine.

The pilot obtained a commercial helicopter rating on November 1, 1996. His total flight experience was 413 hours, with a 168 hours in helicopters. His total night experience was 39 hours, with 14 hours in helicopters. When asked by the Federal Aviation Administration Inspector about the accident the pilot stated, " I took off towards the trees. The next thing I knew I had no power. Either I lost rotor rpm or I had an engine problem."

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