On April 23, 1997, approximately 1600 mountain daylight time, a Bell 206-L1 helicopter, N618DE, owned by the U.S. Department of Energy and operated by the Western Area Power Administration as a public use aircraft, was substantially damaged when it impacted the ground following an uncontrolled descent near Trinidad, Colorado. The commercial pilot, sole occupant of the helicopter, received minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the Title 14 CFR Part 91 cross country flight. A VFR flight plan had been filed for the flight that originated in Farmington, New Mexico, at 1300.

The pilot reported that earlier that day he completed a power line patrol mission which was approximately three hours in duration. The pilot was executing a VFR cross-country flight. The intended route of flight was from Farmington, New Mexico, to Ft. Collins, Colorado, with stops for fuel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and Pueblo, Colorado. The pilot stated that he departed Farmington at 1300 and flew to Las Vegas. While on the ground at Las Vegas, New Mexico, the helicopter was fueled with 69.1 gallons of fuel and the pilot received a weather briefing from the Albuquerque Flight Service Station (FSS) approximately 1210.

The aircraft departed Las Vegas, New Mexico, approximately 1530, and the pilot "established a course following the interstate highway [I-25] due north to Raton." The pilot stated that he encountered a low-lying cloud in his intended flight path while descending, approximately 4 miles north of Raton Pass. He began a right turn to avoid the cloud, and during the turn, increased power to initiate a climb to avoid the rising terrain off his right side. During the climbing right turn, the aircraft slowed and directional control was lost approximately 300 feet AGL. The aircraft began to spin to the right, and when power was added, the rate of turn increased. The pilot decreased the power to slow the rate of turn, which resulted in an increased rate of descent. The pilot reported that before the turn, the helicopter's airspeed was 80 knots, and during the turn, the helicopter's airspeed decreased to between 20 and 30 knots. The aircraft impacted the ground while turning right and came to rest on its right side, one-quarter mile west of the intended flight path.

Raton Pass is a landform that separates the plains area towns of Raton, New Mexico, and Trinidad, Colorado. The mountain peaks extend to approximately 8,000 feet MSL at the summit of the Pass. The accident site was located at 7,500 feet MSL. Interstate Highway 25, the highway the pilot was following, crosses through the pass, north to south between New Mexico, and Colorado.

The pilot reported that winds at the time of the accident were from the South, a tailwind, at 13 knots with gusts to 18 knots. The surface observation at Perry Stokes Airport (TAD), located 20 miles northwest of Raton Pass, at 1634 mountain daylight time, reported winds from 160 degrees at 5 knots gusting to 18 knots. The ceiling was reported as 500 feet broken with a visibility of 10 statute miles.

The pilot reported that both skids separated from the helicopter. The vertical fin and tail rotor separated from the aircraft at the 42 degree gear box. The right side of the helicopter sustained structural damage.

The pilot exited the aircraft without assistance, and he was taken to the local hospital where he was treated and released. Results to toxicological tests performed at the hospital were negative.

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