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On February 15, 2001, approximately 2215 central standard time, a Robinson R-22 Beta helicopter, N4002M, struck an electrical pole and impacted terrain during a dark night cross-country flight near Borger, Texas. The helicopter was owned and operated by the two private pilots under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Both pilots received fatal injuries, and the helicopter was destroyed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of departure from Gruver, Texas, approximately 2130, and fog was reported in the vicinity of Borger on the night of the accident. A flight plan was not filed for the personal flight with a planned destination of a private helipad near Amarillo, Texas, approximately 70 miles southwest of Gruver.
A witness, who was the daughter of the pilots, stated that approximately 2145, the helicopter circled over her residence, which is located 10 nautical miles (nm) south of the Gruver Municipal Airport (E19), and then flew south toward Morse, Texas, along the planned route of flight. According to the witness, the pilots' planned route of flight was as follows: depart E19, follow Highway 136 south to Borger, follow Highway 207 south to Panhandle-Carson County Airport (T45), Panhandle, Texas, follow Interstate 60 west to Amarillo, and terminate at the private helipad.
Another witness stated that approximately 2210 as she was driving to her residence, she observed a "low flying aircraft" descending from the clouds near the south side of Borger. The witness spotted a "light" through a clear patch in the clouds. The "light" descended to just below the clouds and continued to travel south along Highway 207 toward Panhandle. The "light" appeared to be at a height "just above the radio tower," which has an elevation of 285 feet agl.
Local authorities received notification approximately midnight on February 15, 2001, that the helicopter had not reached the planned destination. Search and rescue procedures were initiated; however, search efforts were hampered by the dark night, low ceilings, and fog.
On February 24, 2001, approximately 1000, the helicopter was located on a ranch south of Borger, adjacent to an oil pump jack. The terrain at the accident site consisted of rolling hills and sparse vegetation.
The pilots' daughter observed her parents enter the helicopter and reported that her father positioned himself in the left cockpit seat, and her mother positioned herself in the right cockpit seat. The helicopter was equipped with dual flight controls; therefore, which pilot was serving as pilot-in-command (PIC) at the time of the accident is unknown. For the purpose of flight experience documentation only, the left and right seat pilots are listed in this report as first and second pilots, respectively.
The first pilot received a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating on February 6, 1962. He received a rotorcraft helicopter rating on August 8, 2000. The first pilot was issued a third-class medical certificate on January 29, 2001, with the restriction "SHALL WEAR CORRECTIVE LENSES." According to the pilot's logbook, at the time of the accident, he had accumulated 231 flight hours in all aircraft, and 172 flight hours in the make and model of the accident helicopter. The first pilot had accumulated 10 hours of night flying time, and had not logged any instrument flight training. In addition, he had accumulated 7.6 hours of day and 0.9 hours of night flight from Gruver to the private helipad and/or the private helipad to Gruver.
The second pilot received a private pilot certificate with a rotorcraft helicopter rating on August 12, 2000. She was issued a third-class medical certificate on January 29, 2001, with the restriction "SHALL WEAR CORRECTIVE LENSES." According to the pilot's logbook, at the time of the accident, she had accumulated 143 flight hours in the make and model of the accident helicopter. The second pilot had accumulated 6 hours of night flying time, and had not logged any instrument flight training. In addition, she had accumulated 11.2 hours of day and 2.0 hours of night flight from Gruver to the private helipad and/or the private helipad to Gruver.
The two-bladed, two-seat, black and white Robinson helicopter (serial number 1444) was issued a standard airworthiness certificate on June 22, 1990, and was registered to the pilots on January 19, 2000. The helicopter was powered by a 160-horsepower Lycoming O-320-B2C engine (serial number L-16212-39A). On May 3, 1999, the altimeter and static system was tested to 20,000 feet msl, with a 20-foot margin of error at 1,000 feet msl. The most recent annual inspection was completed on December 7, 2000, at which time, the airframe and engine had accumulated a total of 954.5 hours. At the time of the accident, the helicopter had accumulated 975.6 hours.
According to the factory equipment list for the helicopter, dated June 19, 1990, the flight instruments and other equipment installed on the aircraft included: airspeed indicator, altimeter, compass, Apollo II Loran C, strobe light, two landing lights, two forward and one tail position lights. The helicopter was not equipped for flight in instrument meteorological conditions. In addition, an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) was not installed on the helicopter, nor was one required; however, it was available as optional equipment from the manufacturer.
The daughter, who drove the pilots to the airport, reported that her father stated that the aircraft had approximately 14 gallons of fuel on board for the flight to Amarillo. The flight to E19 conducted earlier that day from the private helipad near Amarillo had consumed 10 gallons of fuel.
According to McAlester Flight Service Station personnel, at 1447, one of the two pilots requested a weather briefing for a flight to E19 that was to depart from a location near Amarillo at 1830. There were no additional weather briefings requested by either pilot of the accident aircraft.
The area forecast for Northwestern Texas issued for February 15, 2001, at 2045, was valid until 1500, on February 16, 2001. The forecast was "sky clear occasional broken cirrus east. Becoming February 16, 0400-0800 ceiling overcast 1,000 feet. Visibility 3 miles mist." There were no AIRMETs, convective SIGMETs, or non-convective SIGMETs issued by the Aviation Weather Center pertinent to the planned route of flight, and there were no PIREPs relevant to the accident area.
At 2053, the weather observation facility at Guymon Municipal Airport (GUY), Guymon, Oklahoma, located 27 miles north of E19, reported clear skies, visibility 8 statute miles, wind from 120 degrees at 6 knots, temperature 30 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 27 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 30.01 inches of Mercury.
At 2153, GUY reported clear skies, visibility 8 statute miles, wind from 110 degrees at 3 knots, temperature 28 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 30.04 inches of Mercury.
The weather observation facility at Borger-Hutchinson County Airport (BGD), located 5 miles north of the accident site, was malfunctioning at the time of the following observations. The BGD 2151 and 2331 observations were not transmitted, and for the 2151 observation, the sky condition was missing from the report.
At 2151, BGD reported visibility 8 statute miles, wind from 010 degrees at 10 knots, temperature 30 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 27 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 30.00 inches of Mercury.
At 2331, BGD reported broken clouds at 800 feet, visibility 8 statute miles, wind calm, temperature 28 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 27 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 30.04 inches of Mercury.
At 2117, the weather observation facility at Amarillo International Airport (AMA), located 28 miles southwest of the accident site, reported broken clouds at 500 feet, visibility 9 statute miles, wind from 120 degrees at 9 knots, temperature 36 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 29.98 inches of Mercury.
At 2153, AMA reported broken clouds at 300 feet, visibility 7 statute miles, wind from 100 degrees at 9 knots, temperature 30 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 29.96 inches of Mercury.
At 2253, AMA reported overcast ceiling at 300 feet, visibility 5 statute miles, wind from 110 degrees at 11 knots, temperature 30 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 30.01 inches of Mercury.
At 2153, the weather observation facility at Dalhart Municipal Airport (DHT), Dalhart, Texas, located 62 miles northwest of the accident site, reported overcast ceiling at 100 feet, visibility 1/2 statute miles, wind from 080 at 10 knots, temperature 32 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 32 degrees Fahrenheit, altimeter setting of 30.02 inches of Mercury, and fog.
At 2201, DHT reported broken clouds at 100 feet, visibility 2 statute miles, wind from 040 at 10 knots, temperature 30 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 30 degrees Fahrenheit, altimeter setting of 30.03 inches of Mercury, and mist.
At 2330, the Texas/Oklahoma Panhandles Forecast Discussion, issued by the National Weather Service of Amarillo, Texas, reported "low clouds and fog developing on the cool side of surface boundary... from Amarillo to Dalhart. Surface dew point spreads are low elsewhere...so have mentioned low clouds and fog eastern and north-central sections as well. Also mentioned light freezing drizzle developing over south-central...southwestern...and northwestern zones where advection of higher dew points in easterly low-level flow will provide environment favorable for development of same."
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located on the 6666 Ranch, 0.9 miles east of Highway 207, approximately 37 miles south of E19, and 5 miles south of the radio tower referenced by the aforementioned witness. The location of the wreckage was recorded by a GPS receiver at North 35 degrees 36.367 minutes latitude and West 101 degrees 23.212 minutes longitude, at an elevation of 3,165 feet msl. The helicopter wreckage was distributed along a measured 250-foot path, oriented 324 degrees magnetic. The initial impact point was a 30-foot tall electrical pole with an 8-foot crossbeam. The top 6 feet 3 inches of the 9-inch diameter pole was found separated laying adjacent to the pole base. The separation was consistent with a main rotor blade strike. Sections of the main rotor blades were located near the pole and throughout the distribution path.
Initial ground scars were located 42 feet from the base of the pole. Separated pieces of the tail rotor blades were located near the ground scars. Portions of the carburetor were located 87 feet from the base of the pole in a ground scar that was consistent with the dimensions of the aft fuselage and skids. A dirt mound, located 98 feet from the pole, contained pieces of the landing light and fiberglass from the nose of the helicopter. The area surrounding the dirt mound was scattered with plexiglass. The main wreckage was located upslope from the base of the pole and adjacent to an oil pump jack. The main wreckage consisted of the tail boom with tail rotor attached, main rotor assembly, transmission, engine, and the fuselage. Between the initial impact point and the main wreckage, were numerous helicopter components, including fragmented landing skids, doors, flight instruments, and the cockpit instrument console.
The engine and main transmission remained attached to the airframe. The firewalls were buckled and compressed. The engine was intact, and the carburetor and exhaust pipes were crushed. The main rotor clutch was found engaged. The clutch turned freely and locked normally when turned by hand. The V-belts were found off the upper and lower sheave grooves, but the V-belts were visually intact.
The main rotor assembly, with its corresponding remaining main rotor blades, was found adjacent to the fuselage. The main rotor mast was separated at the main transmission. The main rotor mast separation surface displayed signatures consistent with torsional rotation separation. The upper swash plate pitch links were found separated with the physical evidence at the separation points being consistent with overload. The outboard sections of both main rotor blades were separated from the leading edge of the blade and displayed signatures corresponding to impact with the 9-inch diameter pole. Chemical transfers consistent with cresote were found on the separated blade sections.
The tail boom was separated aft of the main fuselage. Tail rotor drive shaft continuity was confirmed from the tail boom separation point to the transmission, and also from the separation point to the tail rotor gearbox. The damper was found intact, and the shaft rotated freely within the damper bearing. The aft flex coupling was intact. The tail rotor system remained attached to the gearbox and rotated freely by hand. The tail rotor blades were found separated at the grips.
The flight control tubes and bellcrank assemblies had fracture points throughout the system. Flight control continuity was established by moving the flight controls at either side of the fracture points. All the fracture points exhibited physical evidence consistent with overload.
The cockpit was destroyed with crushing and component separation. The collective was found in the up position. The governor switch was found in the "ON" position. The engine mixture control was found in the full "RICH" position, the carburetor heat was found in the "COLD" position, and the fuel selector was observed to be in the "ON" position. The upper and mid control consoles, along with the flight instruments, were destroyed. Both seatbelts were found buckled and separated from the airframe. Both cabin doors were found with the door bolt in the locked position.
The main fuel tank was found connected to the airframe, and the auxillary fuel tank was found separated from the airframe. The integrity of both fuel tanks was compromised. The fuel caps on both tanks were found secured.
An inspection and disassembly of the engine and related components did not reveal any discrepancies that would have precluded normal operation prior to impact.
MEDICAL AND PATHELOGICAL INFORMATION
Both pilot autopsies were performed by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Division of Forensic Pathology of Lubbock, Texas, on February 26, 2001. Toxicological tests performed by the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) Forensic Toxicology and Accident Research Center were negative for both pilots.
SEARCH AND RESCUE
Personnel from the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), Hutchinson County Sheriff's Office, Hutchinson County Sheriff's Posse, Fritch Police Department, Borger Police Department, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, High Plains Search and Rescue, Stinnett Emergency Medical Services, Hutchinson County Emergency Operating System and numerous other volunteers assembled various times to conduct ground, air, and water search operations. The Texas DPS was designated in charge of the incident command post. Search and rescue operations were dispatched through the incident command system. The shores and waters of Lake Meredith were searched with horses, boats, and dive teams.
According to a search and rescue mission report by the Texas Wing Civil Air Patrol (CAP), CAP searches were initiated February 17 through the 20th, 2001. During the 179.6 hours of searching, there were 118 aerial and ground sorties conducted with 13 to 17 aircraft and 37 to 56 individuals searching each day. The searched area extended outward from Borger to the Oklahoma State Line on the north, Pampa, Texas on the east, Panhandle on the south, and Lake Meredith, Texas, on the west.
TEST AND RESEARCH
An Apollo Loran C navigational receiver was recovered from the accident helicopter and tested by UPS Aviation Technologies of Salem, Oregon, on March 6, 2001. It was determined that the last recorded position of the unit was at North 35 degrees and 36.78 minutes latitude, and West 101 degrees and 24.12 minutes longitude, a position consistent with the accident location. Flight plan information was found in the memory, and the last active flight plan was as follows:
FROM WAYPOINT: PPFR, LAT: 36 degrees, 04.56 N; and LONG: 101 degrees, 28.13 W; a position consistent with the location of the witness that saw the helicopter circle her residence.
TO WAYPOINT: T45, LAT: 35 degrees, 21.70 N; and LONG: 101 degrees, 21.89 W; a position consistent with the Panhandle-Carson County Airport.
The distance and bearing from the last known position to the TO WAYPOINT were as follows:
Distance: 15.2 nm
Bearing: 164 degrees
The wreckage was released to the owner's representative.