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On June 7, 2001, about 1100 eastern daylight time, a Hughes 369A (OH-6A) helicopter, N58963, operated by Saber Executive Helicopters, was destroyed during collision with mountainous terrain in Perry, West Virginia. The certificated commercial pilot was fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed for the positioning flight that originated at Capital City Airport (CXY), Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. No flight plan was filed for the flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
During a telephone interview, the operator said the pilot had conducted aerial film work the previous week at an automobile race in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. After the race, the pilot was allowed to fly to Honesdale, Pennsylvania, conduct a personal business transaction, and then return to perform aerial film work in Bristol, Tennessee, on the evening of June 7, 2001.
The helicopter departed the Cherry Ridge Airport (N30) sometime on the morning of the accident, and landed at the Capital City Airport for a fuel purchase. The helicopter departed CXY, at 0938, destined for the Tri-Cities Airport (TRI), Bristol, Tennessee. Examination of fuel records, and a conversation with the fixed-base operator at CXY, revealed the helicopter was "topped off" with 37 gallons of Jet A aviation fuel, at 0930.
During a telephone interview, a retired U.S. Army aviator who flew the OH-6 helicopter, said he witnessed an OH-6 helicopter fly southwest past his home in Wardensville, West Virginia, about 1030, on the morning of the accident. The crash site was approximately 6 miles southwest of Wardensville.
According to the witness:
"He was flying southwest along the north side of the mountain. He was at 1,500 feet at the base of the clouds. I thought he was kind of dumb to be flying in that kind of weather. It was overcast with mist falling. There was no sucker hole for him to climb through because the ridgeline was obscured by clouds. Visibility was, up where he was, maybe a mile. A time or two while I was watching him, his rotor blades disappeared into the clouds."
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an Alert Notice (ALNOT) for the helicopter after concerned family members reported the helicopter overdue. The last known radar position for the helicopter was 20 miles southwest of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at 0950.
The Civil Air Patrol located the crash site from the air on June 9, 2001, at 1934.
The accident occurred during the hours of daylight approximately 38 degrees, 59 minutes north latitude, and 078 degrees, 38 minutes west longitude.
The pilot held a commercial pilot's certificate with ratings for rotorcraft-helicopter and instrument helicopter. He held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land.
The pilot's most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued June 23, 2000. The pilot reported 2,000 hours of civilian flight experience, and 1,200 hours of military flight experience on that date.
According to the pilot's employer, the pilot reported 2,441 hours of flight experience, 30 hours of which were in single-engine airplanes. The remainder of the pilot's flight experience was in helicopters, 129 hours of which were in the Hughes 369A.
The helicopter was delivered to the United States Military in 1969 as an OH-6A. Subsequent to that, the helicopter was converted to a Hughes 369A and registered in the normal category.
The helicopter had accrued 4,028 hours of flight time. The helicopter was on an annual inspection program, and its most recent 100-hour inspection was on April 30, 2001, at 3,950 aircraft hours.
The weather at 1020, at the Winchester Regional Airport, Winchester Virginia, 25 miles northeast of the crash site was ceiling broken at 600 feet, overcast at 1,000 feet, with 1.25 miles of visibility.
The weather at 1040, was ceiling broken at 600 feet, overcast at 1,700 feet, with 1.25 miles of visibility.
The weather at 1055, was ceiling broken at 600 feet, broken at 900 feet, overcast at 1,700 feet with 2.5 miles visibility.
The field elevation for the Winchester Regional Airport was 727 feet.
According to a Safety Board Meteorological Specialist's report:
"The NWS Weather Depiction Chart for 1300Z on June 7, 2001, depicted a large area of Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) conditions enclosed by a shaded contour line across the route of flight over Maryland, Virginia, northern West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Surrounding the IFR conditions was an area of Marginal Visual Flight Rules (MVFR) conditions and extended from south of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Georgia and then Gulf Coast of Alabama. VFR conditions were limited to central and northeastern Pennsylvania near the departure location for the route of flight.
"The station models on the 1300Z Weather Depiction Chart over northern West Virginia indicated visibility 1/2 mile in fog and a ceiling overcast at 400 feet AGL .
"The NWS Weather Depiction Chart for 1600Z is included as attachment 3. The chart depicted an area of IFR conditions over West Virginia with the station model indicating 2 miles in mist and ceilings overcast at 400 feet. Other areas of IFR conditions were reported over Tennessee, otherwise a large area of MVFR conditions were reported from Maryland, Virginia, southern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, western North Carolina, through the Ohio Valley and south-central Gulf Coast States."
During a telephone interview, one witness described the weather on the morning of the accident. She said:
"It was very foggy that morning. I remember because the radio station in Winchester said it was going to be foggy, and to watch out for it. I commented to my son about how foggy it was, and to look at it."
A search of air traffic control and flight service records, revealed no record of the pilot obtaining a weather briefing or filing a flight plan. There was no record that N58963 contacted En-Route Flight Advisory Service (EFAS).
The helicopter was examined at the site on June 10, 2001, and all major components were accounted for at the scene. There was a strong odor of fuel and no evidence of fire. The helicopter came to rest on a mountain approximately 3,200 feet high. The wreckage was on the northwest side of the mountain, on a slope of about 40 degrees, at an elevation of 2,610 feet.
The wreckage path was oriented about 135 degrees magnetic and measured 45 feet in length. The wreckage path was divided into 1-foot increments called wreckage points (WP). Wreckage fragments, personal items, pieces of luggage, military uniforms, and four 6-gallon diesel fuel cans were scattered across the wreckage path. The fuel cans were punctured, but contained trace amounts of fuel with a kerosene odor.
The initial impact point (WP zero) was two trees side-by-side, about 10 feet apart, and perpendicular to the wreckage path. Facing the direction of travel, the tree on the right showed a deep slash mark on the approach side of the tree, and a sharp, angular cut tree trunk remained from the tree on the left. A corresponding, angular cut tree trunk with the top branches attached rested below the tree on the left. The slash mark on the right and the top of the cut stump on the left, were both about 10 feet above the ground.
An impact crater approximately 3 feet deep and 12 feet across was located at WP 12.
On the left border of the impact crater was a tree approximately 15 inches in diameter with 2 scars approximately parallel to each other. The scar at the base of the tree was several slash marks superimposed over each other in about the same spot. The second scar was a single slash mark, about 6 inches deep. This scar was 4 feet 6 inches above the ground and at the same approximate height as the cuts on the trees at WP zero.
The two fuselage-mounted fuel cells were found outside the airframe and located at WP 15 and WP 20 respectively. Both fuel cells were punctured, but retained their original shape. Both cells contained some fuel, but the amount could not be determined.
The main wreckage was located at WP 37. The cockpit and cabin areas were completely destroyed by impact. The main rotorhead, main transmission, engine, tailboom, and tail rotor were entangled at that point.
Examination of the rotorhead revealed that the Red, White, and Blue main rotor grips were still attached to the hub. The Yellow main rotor grip was separated from the hub and entangled in the wreckage. The Yellow tension/torsion (TT) straps were fractured and bent in the "lag" direction, opposite the direction of rotation.
The Red, White, and Blue rotor blades displayed similar twisting, bending, leading edge gouging, and chordwise scratching. The yellow blade was completely destroyed with several feet of the outer diameter scattered across the wreckage path. The U-shaped channel on the lag side of the drag brace on the Red blade grip was filled with wood.
Control continuity could not be established. Flight control components such as push-pull tubes, bellcranks, rudder pedals, and the cyclic and collective control sticks were fractured into small pieces. All fractures appeared to be in overload.
Examination of the engine revealed that the compressor shroud was dented in the area of the number 3 and 4 compressor wheels. Examination through the engine air inlet revealed that the compressor blades were damaged, and bent opposite the direction of rotation.
Examination of the exhaust section revealed melted, aluminized deposits splattered across the exhaust stacks.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for the State of West Virginia performed post-mortem and toxicological testing for the pilot on June 11, 2001.
According to the Hughes 369A Owner's Manual, FLIGHT LIMITATIONS:
"a. Instrument flight prohibited."
The helicopter wreckage was released to Anglin Aircraft Recovery Services on June 13, 2001.