On November 17, 1999, approximately 1145 mountain standard time, an Aerospatiale SA341G (Gazelle) helicopter, N341G, was substantially damaged following impact with terrain while maneuvering near El Paso, Texas. The airline transport pilot, the sole occupant in the helicopter, was not injured. The helicopter was owned by the pilot, and operated by Bear Helicopters, Inc., under Title 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local area surveillance flight which originated approximately 1.5 hours before the accident. No flight plan had been filed.

The pilot said that he had been flying a reconnaissance mission for the U.S. Military over the McGregor test firing range in New Mexico. He was returning home to his base near El Paso, Texas, when he saw something on the ground that looked like a drone aircraft. He said that he went to a hover at approximately 5 feet above ground level (agl) to examine the object. The pilot said that when he initiated his departure, the helicopter made an uncommanded roll to the right causing the main rotor blades to hit the ground.

Postaccident examination and testing of the three main rotor blade servos, by a certified testing facility, found no anomalies which might have initiated an uncommanded roll (see docket exhibits). The helicopter manufacturer's representative said that he had never heard of an uncommanded roll in this model of aircraft.

One main rotor pitch change link was found bent and broken. It was examined by a member of the National Transportation Safety Board's Materials Laboratory Division. No unusual anomalies were identified (see docket exhibits).

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