On May 17, 1997, about 1302 eastern daylight time, a Bell 206L-1, N30SG, registered to a private individual, operated by Air Orlando Helicopter, Inc., was substantially damaged during an autorotative landing on Lockheed Martin property, near Orlando, Florida. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and no flight plan was filed for the 14 CFR Part 91 sightseeing flight. The commercial-rated pilot and one passenger sustained serious injuries. Two passengers sustained minor injuries. The flight originated from the operator's helipad located about 1 nautical mile west of the crash site about 1 minute earlier.

The pilot stated that the purpose of the planned 3-4 minute flight was to fly around a nearby landmark then return. The helicopter departed with 130 pounds of fuel and while level at 200 feet and 60 knots about a few hundred yards east of the departure point, he heard two "pops" with a corresponding yaw to the left. He then noted that the engine out light was illuminated and heard the low rotor warning horn. At that time the helicopter was over trees and he intentionally stretched his glide to attempt an autorotative landing in an open field past his first intended touchdown point. While descending, he pulled the caution circuit breaker. The rotor rpm was intentionally decreased to attempt to clear the trees below with a resulting hard landing in an open field. He further stated that the hard landing was caused by his misjudging the landing area distance and he also reported that he experienced trouble starting the engine the morning of the accident.

One of the passengers who was seated in the left rear seat was a military trained helicopter pilot with a total of about 1,400 hours in all makes and models helicopters and about 800 hours total flight time in Bell 206 type helicopters. He reported that he last flew in the Army Reserve in 1990 and also flew as a commercial pilot for a company located in Louisiana. He reported that he and the right rear seat passenger boarded the helicopter while the engine was operating and was not told by either company personnel or the pilot about emergency procedures. He stated that after being seated in the helicopter he did not hear the low rotor warning horn which was determined to be previously disconnected. The flight then departed and climbed to an estimated height of not less than 600 feet based on his previous flight experience. About 10-15 seconds after leveling off he heard a pop sound then felt a vibration from the airframe with an immediate slight descent. The pilot then advised that the flight was going down and he felt the pilot was initiating a descent for an autorotative landing. At no time did he hear the low rotor warning horn and he observed an open field below which he felt was sufficient for the autorotative landing. At about 50 feet above ground level he felt the pilot flare the helicopter which reduced the forward ground speed and the pilot then leveled the helicopter and he expected to feel the initial collective pitch pull but he did not feel this. The helicopter then touched down very hard, bounced, touched down then came to rest upright. The pilot and left front seat passenger exited the helicopter on their own. He asked the pilot if he turned everything off and the pilot responded he had turned off the fuel switch.

The helicopter pilot-rated passenger further stated that the pilot told him immediately after the accident that the rotor rpm had bled off to below 80 percent before he realized what had happened. The pilot then stated a few minutes later that he had bled off the main rotor rpm while attempting to clear trees below. The pilot rated passenger also stated that he did not observe the pilot pull the caution circuit breaker during the emergency descent.

Postcrash examination of the accident site by an FAA inspector revealed that the closest boundary of trees that the helicopter had flown over was 166 feet behind the main wreckage. The trees were estimated to be 20-feet tall and sloped upward to about 40 feet about 300 feet aft from the main wreckage. The rectangular shaped field measured 279 feet wide by 468 feet long. The helicopter was observed to be upright on a magnetic heading of about 020 degrees with the longitudinal axis parallel to the longest side of the field. One of the main rotor blades was separated near the doubler with compression damage on the bottom side of the blade. The separated blade was observed resting against the right side of the fuselage. The other blade which was attached to the blade grip exhibited only minor damage to the trailing edge of the blade. The tail boom was separated about 6 inches aft of the bulkhead attachment with the lower skin exhibiting compression wrinkles. No main rotor blade impact marks were noted on or near the fracture surface of the tail boom. The skids were observed to be displaced up with the fuselage resting on the ground. The "Caution" circuit breaker was observed to be pulled. The helicopter was recovered for further examination.

The fuel tank was drained and found to contain 118 pounds of fuel, no contaminants were noted. Continuity to the fuel control and power turbine governor was noted and all "B" nuts were tight. The compressor scroll to filter Pc, line was checked and found to be intact. The engine was removed and sent to the manufacturer's facility.

While installed in a test cell, the engine was started immediately with no initial starting discrepancies noted. Excessive vibration was noted and the engine was then shut down. Three successive attempts to start the engine were unsuccessful. The fuel nozzle was then re-shimmed and the engine was then started. A power calibration run was performed which determined that at cruise, takeoff, and 2.5 minute power settings, the shaft horsepower output was 12.995, 13.090, and 11.173 percent respectively less than specified output for a production engine. The engine was removed from the test stand and disassembled which revealed that the turbine nozzle exhibited damage and a distorted spray pattern from the associated fuel nozzle was noted. Examination of the compressor revealed that it was dirty and the No.1 seal was leaking. Also, two fingers were broken on the No.1 bearing damper. The main engine fuel control and the power turbine governor were removed for bench tests and teardown.

Bench testing of the fuel control revealed that at four of the test points during the acceleration schedule, the fuel flow was greater than specified. Also, the metering valve maximum stop adjustment which is field adjustable, was about 145 pounds per hour greater than specified. One of the test points during the manual start acceleration flow was less than specified limits. All other test points were within limits. Bench testing of the governor revealed that at only one of the test points the rpm recorded value was less than specified. All other test points were within limits. Both units were disassembled after bench testing which revealed no evidence of abnormal contamination which would affect operation.

The wreckage minus the retained fuel control and power turbine governor was released to Mr. Samuel W. Groome, the registered owner on July 23, 1997. The fuel control and governor were also released to Mr. Groome on November 10, 1997.

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