FTW97LA356
FTW97LA356

On September 22, 1997, at 0530 central daylight time, a Sikorsky S-76A helicopter, N517AL, registered to and operated by Offshore Logistics, Inc., of Lafayette, Louisiana, collided with the ground following a loss of control during takeoff from the Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport, Patterson, Louisiana. The helicopter sustained substantial damage, and the airline transport rated pilot and copilot were seriously injured. There were no passengers aboard the aircraft, which was departing on a Title 14 CFR Part 91 positioning flight to Grand Chenier, Louisiana, when the accident occurred. Dark night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and a company flight plan was filed.

Witnesses reported to FAA inspectors that the helicopter was conducting a high hover for departure when it disappeared from view into the fog. According to the FAA inspectors, the helicopter departed from the heliport located south of the seaplane slip and impacted in a sugar cane field between the seaplane slip and runway 6-24. They reported that the helicopter was found resting on its right side with the landing gear in the retracted position. The inspectors further reported that the main rotor blades were destroyed, and both engine inlets were packed with shredded sugar cane.

The following weather conditions were reported at 0554 (24 minutes after the accident) by the Automated Weather Observing Station (AWOS) at the Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport: Wind from 070 degrees at 5 knots, visibility 1/2 statute mile, indefinite ceiling with vertical visibility 500 feet, temperature 24 degrees C, dewpoint 23 degrees C, altimeter setting 30.03 inches of mercury.

In written statements provided to the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC), the pilot-in-command (PIC) and the copilot reported that the PIC was the pilot-not-flying and the copilot was the pilot-flying. The PIC stated that preflight activities "included listening to the airport AWOS" which was reporting a visibility of "3/4 mile with no ceiling." Following an uneventful before takeoff check, the flight "hovered for departure," and the PIC told the copilot to "make a practice ITO [Instrument Takeoff]." Both crewmembers stated that the takeoff was initiated with 90% power and a positive rate of climb was established.

According to the copilot, "as [he] accelerated to 65 knots, the best rate of climb speed on the S-76, [he] gave it a little bit of aft cyclic to hold the 65 knots." He asked the PIC "to turn down the glare shield lights" as "they were too bright." The copilot recalled "making an effort not to distract [himself] by looking towards the switch." He then "felt or heard something come into contact with the aircraft" and "gave some aft cyclic and the contact stopped." This was the copilot's last recollection before the helicopter came to a stop on the ground.

According to the PIC, the rate of climb increased to 1,000 fpm, then decreased "to 500 fpm as the airspeed passed 80 [knots]." He told the copilot to "keep best climb speed (of 74 [knots]), and an adjustment was made." The PIC then responded to a complaint from the copilot that "the instrument lights were blinding him" by looking down, locating the knobs, and adjusting the lights. When the copilot "stated that something was wrong," he looked up and observed that "the attitude indicator had a five degree left bank coupled with a two bar low attitude." The helicopter was descending at "300 fpm," and the altimeter read "110 feet."

The PIC reported that as he "saw the sugar cane field coming into view," he "got on the flight controls with the copilot" and attempted to arrest the descent. The helicopter continued to settle into the sugar cane and "plowed a path through it." The "plowing" proceeded "until some aft cyclic application popped [the helicopter] out of the cane." The PIC "saw a red taxiway light" and "attempted flight toward the taxiway with the intention of landing there." According to the PIC, "there was no response from the engines when pitch was applied," and the helicopter was "vibrating laterally." He "reduced pitch," decelerated, and "just prior to the hard surface the aircraft fell through." Upon ground contact, the "blades shattered," and "the rotor rpm went to one notch above maximum red line."

Both crewmembers reported that the copilot shut down the engines after the helicopter came to a stop. The PIC "shutoff the battery and other switches," assisted the copilot out of the helicopter, then returned to the cockpit and disarmed the emergency locator transmitter (ELT).

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