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On July 26, 1997, at 1045 hours Pacific daylight time, a Bell 206B, N123WF, owned and operated by Westwind Helicopters, Inc., landed on private property at Rubicon Springs, about 25 miles northeast of Pollock Pines, California. Before the commercial pilot and three passengers exited the helicopter, a prospective passenger approached the helicopter from its rear and walked into the rotating tail rotor blades. The prospective passenger was struck in the head and sustained serious injuries. The accident occurred at the conclusion of an on-demand air taxi flight conducted pursuant to 14 CFR Part 135. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a company VFR flight plan was filed. The flight originated at 1035 from a clearing near the Loon Lake, California.
The pilot reported that he was employed as the operator's chief pilot, and he had logged over 7,000 hours of rotorcraft flight time. He indicated that when he approached the landing area it was clear. The pilot stated that after he landed he reduced the throttle to ground idle and told his passengers it was safe to exit. The pilot did not report that any ground personnel were present to assist his passengers.
The front, left seated passenger in the helicopter reported to the Safety Board that during the flight she was seated next to the pilot. She stated that no persons were observed in the area upon landing at the helipad. Within less than one minute after touchdown she became aware of the mishap.
According to the injured prospective passenger, he was scheduled to be transported in the helicopter. The purpose of his flight was to facilitate his making a video documentary of the Jeeper's program. The passenger indicated that he had been informed to report to the helipad at 1100 for the helicopter ride. He did not report observing any Jeepers or the presence of any ground support personnel in the immediate vicinity of the helipad. He approached the helicopter after it landed, became distracted by the blowing dust and debris, and evidently walked into the rotating tail rotor blade.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service had authorized Westwind Helicopters to operate from sites near the El Dorado National Forest for the purpose of supporting activities associated with the Jeepers Jamboree. However, the Forest Service neither approved, monitored, nor was involved in the crowd control operation at the accident site helipad which was located on private property.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other institutions publish information regarding the hazards associated with helicopter operations. In pertinent part, FAA Advisory Circular number 91-42D, revised in 1983, indicates that rotating rotors are difficult to see, and the nonprofessional public is often not aware of their danger. In fact, even personnel familiar with the danger of a turning rotor are likely to forget it due to a lack of conspicuity.
Regarding the need for ground support personnel and site security, the Advisory Circular recommends that to enhance safety, persons directly involved with enplaning or deplaning passengers should be instructed as to their specific duties, with emphasis placed on the dangers of rotating blades and of the procedures for directing passengers to and from the helicopter. In addition, when the possibility exists of passengers wandering on the ramp, physical barriers such as rope stanchions may be needed.
The Safety Board's examination of on-scene photographs revealed no site security barriers were in place in the immediate vicinity of the helipad. The operator did not report that it had any ground personnel located at the helipad to assist with the movement of passengers to/from the helicopter.