SEA02FA008
SEA02FA008

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On October 18, 2001, at 1543 Alaska daylight time, a Bell 206L helicopter, N400EH, impacted the waters of Cook Inlet about six-tenths of a mile west of the shoreline off the approach end of runway 06 at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Anchorage, Alaska. The pilot, who held a commercial pilot's certificate, expired as a result of the accident sequence. Two passengers were fatally injured and two other passengers received serious injuries. The aircraft, which was owned and operated by Era Aviation, Inc., was on a visual flight rules (VFR) 14 CFR Part 135 on-demand charter flight. The flight was on a company-VFR flight plan.

On the morning of the accident, around 0915, the subject pilot flew five individuals from the south ramp of Anchorage International Airport to Fire Island in N400EH, and then returned without passengers to the Era Helicopters facility. Around 1300, he again flew N400EH to Fire Island, and landed in a cleared area adjacent to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) navigational radio facility near Big Lake. After shutting down the aircraft, he entered the facility building, and waited for the FAA technicians to complete their work. By about 1515, the technicians were finished with their tasks at the facility, and were ready to depart the island. FAA certified audiotapes that recorded radio communications audible at the Anchorage Air Traffic Control Tower (Local Control) show that at 1531, the pilot of N400EH requested a special VRF clearance back to Anchorage International Airport with a landing at the south airpark. The tower advised the pilot to hold on the ground for a couple of minutes because there was inbound traffic to runway six left. The pilot acknowledged this transmission, and then waited on the ground until 1540 when Anchorage Tower issued him a special VFR clearance to enter the Anchorage class C airspace. That clearance included instructions to maintain one thousand one hundred feet or lower, and to proceed to the south airpark. The pilot then read back the clearance and indicated that "...we're on our way, thank you much." About two minutes and thirty seconds after the pilot indicated he was en route, the tower asked him what altitude he was at. He responded with "four hundred is at fifty feet." About 15 seconds after this transmission, Anchorage Tower directed Dynasty 212 Heavy to maintain two thousand feet and to continue to fly its present heading. At the end of that transmission, after what sounds like the click associated with the tower controller releasing his transmit button, there is what appears to be a separate sound that lasts for about five tenths of a second. That sound, which appears to be the end of a transmitted spoken word, was followed immediately with a one second-long squealing static sound that is consistent with the termination of a radio transmission overlapping the tower's transmission to Dynasty 212. After waiting for about five seconds for a response from Dynasty 212 Heavy, the tower repeated the instruction for Dynasty 212 to maintain 2,000 feet, but changed the heading to a right turn to 200 degrees. The flight crew of Dynasty 212 responded with a confirmation of the clearance, and then asked, "Did you copy aircraft going into the water?" Tower asked Dynasty 212 to "say again," and at 1543:17 Dynasty 212 responded with "Did you copy, it sounded like Era said he was going into the water." There were no further transmissions or responses from N400EH, and approximately two minutes later both the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport Police, and the National Guard's 11th Rescue Coordination Center were notified that the helicopter had probably entered the water. The two survivors were rescued by an Air National Guard HH-60 helicopter, and were transported to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage by approximately 1645. Due to weather conditions, the Fire Department rescue boats and the National Guard search helicopters were recalled at approximately 1730.

During the investigation, the IIC conducted multiple interviews with the two surviving passengers. According to the passenger in the right rear seat (facing forward), the helicopter had been sitting on the landing area adjacent to the VOR facility for at least two hours before he and the other passengers boarded for the flight back to the south ramp of Anchorage International Airport. He said that the pilot had come into the facility to relax and watch TV until the FAA personnel were ready to go back to Anchorage. He said that once they were finished at the site, the pilot and all the passengers boarded the aircraft, and the pilot started the engine. After the aircraft's engine was started, it remained on the ground with the engine running for what seemed to him to be about five to ten minutes. He said that by the time the helicopter lifted off, there was a considerable amount of condensation on the inside of the side windows in the area where he was sitting. After it lifted off, the helicopter entered a hover over the landing area, and remained in that position for about one minute. At the end of that time, the pilot set it back down on the landing area, but kept the engine running. Soon after the helicopter sat back down on the landing area, this passenger saw the pilot look at the left front seat passenger and point toward the left side of the front windscreen. Immediately thereafter, the passenger in the front left seat started wiping the inside of the windscreen with his glove. The rear seat passenger believed that the pilot's pointing action had been an indication to the front seat passenger to assist in removing the condensation from the inside of the front windscreen. The rear seat passenger then heard the pilot say "Can you hear me now" over the intercom. The passenger responded that he could, but he did not hear the front seat passenger, who was the only other passenger with a headset on, respond to the pilot's question. Soon thereafter, he heard the front seat passenger ask the pilot if they were on "weather hold," to which the pilot responded, "Yes." About five seconds later, after being on the ground for what seemed to the passenger to be about two minutes, the helicopter took off a second time. After takeoff, the helicopter flew "low over the trees," on a route that was more to the north than what the passenger had expected ("toward Palmer"). Upon reaching the shoreline of Fire Island, the helicopter descended until it was "very low over the water." When the investigator-in-charge asked the passenger for an estimate of the aircraft's height above the water, he said that it was really hard to tell, but that he thought it was about 10 to 15 feet. It appeared to the passenger that as the pilot continued on, the helicopter descended lower and lower, and was eventually flying at what seemed to be about five feet above the water. At that time, he could see white chop and "a lot of spray" being created where the wind from the aircraft's main rotor was impacting the surface of the water. He said that he was "real uncomfortable" with the low altitude, and wanted to say something to the pilot, but did not because he was concerned that he would break the pilot's concentration. According to this passenger, who was looking through the right side window of the helicopter, the pilot continued on at this low altitude for a period of time, and then appeared to enter what seemed like a hover. It appeared to the passenger that the aircraft was in a hover for about a minute, and then it seemed to start moving forward again. As it appeared to start moving forward, the helicopter seemed to descend a few more feet, and then about three to five seconds after descending, the skids drug through the water. Immediately thereafter, the aircraft pulled rapidly up from the water and climbed quickly for a few seconds to an undetermined altitude. As it leveled off, the helicopter began to rock sideways, and seemed to move erratically in many different directions. It then descended for approximately five seconds and impacted the water "very hard." Soon after the bottom of the helicopter impacted the water, it began to roll to the right, and the main rotor blades started to hit the surface of the water on the right side of the aircraft. The helicopter then slowly began to sink.

After exiting the cabin and coming to the surface of the water, the passenger tried to make a call for help on two cell-phones he had in his possession, but he was not successful. He then attempted to sit on a portion of the helicopter that was on the surface of the water, in order to get his personal flotation device repositioned and connected correctly before inflating it. But, since he found this exacerbated the pain from the back injury he sustained during the impact, he slid back into the water. Once he was back in the water, he made the adjustment of his flotation device and pulled the inflation lanyards. The vest then successfully inflated. Soon after inflating his vest, he realized that he could see a shoreline, which at the time he thought was Fire Island, and he started swimming in that direction. After swimming in that direction for awhile, he discovered that he was making little progress against the receding tide, so he stopped swimming and floated until being picked up by a National Guard helicopter.

According to this passenger, soon after the accident helicopter departed the shoreline of Fire Island, he was no longer able to see any land or inlet shoreline. He said that the water was calm and flat, and that it was very hard to tell exactly how high above the surface they were. In addition, he said that it was snowing at the time, and that everything, including the reflection on the water, was kind of grayish white. He could not see any clearly defined horizon, and he felt there were no clear visual clues as to where they were going. Although he could not ascertain the condition of the front windscreen of the helicopter, because most of it was not in his line of sight, he reported that he had to repeatedly wipe off the side window in the passenger cabin with his glove in order to see out.

According to this passenger, the helicopter did not make any sudden or unexpected rolling or pitching movements prior to the skids contacting the water. He said that although he was uncomfortable with the aircraft flying at what looked to him to be just above the surface of the water, there was otherwise nothing unusual about the movements or the flight path of the helicopter until the skids touched the water.

This passenger did not see any lights come on or flash inside the helicopter, nor did he hear any horns or beepers prior to the initiation of the dragging of the skids. He said that he did not hear anything that sounded like a change in the engine or rotor rpm, and that there were no other unusual noises.

According to the other surviving passenger, who was riding in the front left seat, the pilot went out to the helicopter a short time prior to the loading of the passengers, and waited there until everyone was ready to board. Soon after everyone was loaded, the pilot started the aircraft's engine, but did not lift off for what seemed to this passenger to be about 15 minutes. When the pilot did lift off, the aircraft remained in a hover directly over the landing area for approximately one minute. It appeared to the passenger that during the period of time the aircraft was hovering, the pilot was looking around the area and observing the conditions. During the time the helicopter was hovering, this passenger specifically noted that the visibility had deteriorated to the point where he could not see across the channel to Anchorage. After hovering, the pilot sat the helicopter back down on the landing area, but kept the engine running. According to the passenger, at the time the pilot put the aircraft back down, about 75% of the humidity that was on the windscreen when the passengers boarded had evaporated. He also said that most of the humidity that remained at that time was wiped of by himself and the pilot using their gloves, and that thereafter seeing out the front was not a problem. About the same time as the front window was being wiped off, the passenger asked the pilot if they were on a "weather hold," and the pilot responded with "yes." About five minutes after setting the helicopter back down, the pilot took off again, and began heading toward the northeast end of Fire Island. As it headed north, the helicopter flew low over the trees until reaching the shoreline of the island. Then, according to this passenger, after passing the shoreline, the pilot slowly descended to a point where the helicopter was "…real close to the water." When asked by the investigator-in-charge (IIC) how high above the water they were, the passenger said that it appeared that they ultimately got down to about 10 feet from the surface, but he could not tell precisely. He further stated that although he could not tell exactly how high above the water they were, it was a lot lower than he thought they should be. As the aircraft continued toward Anchorage, it got low enough that the passenger could see a white spray off the top of the water where the force of the wind from the main rotor whipped up the surface. At one point, the passenger thought the skids were going to touch the water, but they did not. Soon thereafter, the skids either entered the water or skipped a couple of times across its surface. Almost immediately after the skids contacted the water, the helicopter's nose came up, its tail appeared to hit the water, and the aircraft quickly pulled away from the surface. Then, according to this witness, the nose dipped forward, and the pilot seemed to be rapidly moving the controls "…all over the place." The helicopter then began to rotate as it descended back toward the water. During the descent, the pilot quickly transmitted over his VHF radio that they were "…going in the water." Just after the pilot made his transmission, the helicopter hit the water "very hard." About the same time as the helicopter hit, the passenger remembers seeing the main rotor blades hitting the surface of the water either in front of the aircraft or off to the right side. The next thing the passenger remembers after the impact was coming to the surface of the water. As soon as he popped up, he yanked the activation lanyards on his flotation device, which immediately inflated. Soon thereafter he noticed that one other passenger was on the surface and that they could both see the shore. He and the other passenger soon started swimming toward shore. While he was swimming, he noticed a helicopter near his position, so he stopped trying to make it to shore and waited to be pulled from the water.

According to this passenger, once they left the island, there was no visible horizon, and everything was "…just all gray." He said that they passed a sand bar en route, but once past that, he could not see any land, shoreline, or any other clear visual reference. He reported that it was snowing and the water was flat, and that it was hard to tell where the water ended and the sky began.

He said that he had not seen any steady or flashing lights come on inside the helicopter while they were over the water. He also did not hear any horns or beepers, nor anything that sounded like a change in rpm or any unusual rotor or engine noises.

According to this passenger, the aircraft did not make any sudden or unusual rolling or pitch movements prior to the skids touching the water. He said that although he thought they were too low, he felt they were "doing fine" until the skids touched the water. He said that the aircraft might have rapidly descended a few feet just before the skids touched the water, but he did not have a clear recollection and couldn't really be sure. It appeared to him that "…the pilot just flew it into the water."

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot of the subject aircraft held a commercial pilot certificate, and was rated to operate helicopters and single engine airplanes. His commercial license was first issued in October of 1969, and according to the Era Pilot Experience Record that he completed in early July 2001, he had accumulated over 10,000 pilot hours in helicopters, 8,000 of which were accrued in the Bell 206. Of his total pilot time, 50 was logged as offshore operations. The pilot did not hold an instrument rating, nor had he been issued an instructor rating in either airplanes or helicopters. His most recent second class FAA medical was completed on April 19, 2001. His only medical limitation was the requirement to wear corrective lenses while exercising the privileges of his airman's certificate. He held no medical waivers. A search of the Federal Aviation Administration's Accident/Incident Data System and the Enforcement Information System revealed no accident/incident or enforcement records.

According to Era Helicopters' records, this individual had been employed as a pilot for the Alaska State Troopers from March of 1980 until January of 2001. During this period, his primary duties included flight support for general patrolling, surveillance, transportation of equipment and personnel, and search and rescue missions. He was hired by Era Aviation, Inc. on June 25, 2001, and completed his pre-assignment training on July 9, 2001. He successfully passed his VFR-only FAR Part 135 approval check on the same date. During that evaluation, in addition to the general and VFR portions of the check, he was evaluated on, and satisfactorily performed, three items from the Instrument Procedures section. Those items were unusual attitude recoveries, basic instrument airwork, and communications procedures. A review of the remarks section of the Part 135 Check Ride Form revealed the annotation, "Inadvertent IMC training completed-Base Month July." On July 9, 2001, he was given a duty assignment with Era Helicopters as a VFR-only helicopter pilot operating the Bell model 206 only. On July 29 he removed himself from flying status for the purpose of having arthroscopy surgery performed on one of his knees. After recovering from that procedure, a medical doctor examined him and gave him a medical release to return to flying status on October 10, 2001. As of the day of the accident, he had accumulated 9.5 hours flying time as a pilot for Era Helicopters. Of that total, .9 was revenue producing. His round robin flights to Fire Island on the day of the accident where his first passenger-carrying revenue operations for Era Helicopters.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

At the time the pilot of N400EH called Anchorage Tower to request a Special VFR clearance, Airport Terminal Information Service (ATIS) Juliet was in effect. According to this transmission, which became effective at 1406, the wind was variable at five knots, the visibility was one statute mile with light snow and mist. There was a broken ceiling at 400 feet above the airport, a broken layer at 1,700 feet, and a 3,400 foot overcast. The temperature and dew point were 0 degrees and -1 degrees Celsius respectively. The altimeter was 29.47 inches of mercury. The report also stated the continuous snow removal was in effect.

The 1553 airport surface weather observation (METAR), which was taken approximately 10 minutes after the accident, indicated calm winds, 3/4 mile visibility, light snow and mist, a vertical visibility (indefinite ceiling) of 800 feet, a temperature of 0 degrees and a dew point of -1 degree, a barometric pressure of 29.47, with a remark that there was one mile visibility from the tower.

During the investigation, the Investigator-In-Charge (IIC) talked with an individual who had been at a location less than one mile from the accident site at the time the aircraft impacted the water. According to this individual, who was sledding with his daughter in Kincaid Park at the time of the accident, when he departed his home in the southern part of Anchorage around 1500 in order to go to the park, the snow was light but steady. He said that as he neared the park, the snow, which was still steady, became medium in intensity. Then around 1530 or 1540, the snow started falling very heavily, and the visibility became very bad. He said that the flakes were big and that it became very much of a whiteout. He estimated that during the heavy snowfall the maximum distance he could see a dark colored object was about 500 feet. He said that during the heavy snow, the wind was either calm or very light. According to this individual, around 1600 the rate of snowfall decreased significantly, and as the snowfall decreased the visibility improved to the point where he could see out into Cook Inlet.

The IIC also interviewed an individual who was working at another location on Fire Island at the time the helicopter departed for Anchorage. According to this individual, when she was flown to the island that morning around 0900, the visibility was "pretty good." But in the afternoon, the snow started to get heavier and the visibility decreased to the point where she could see only part way across the channel between the island and the mainland. She said that at the time the helicopter was reported to have departed, there was a lot of blowing snow, and the visibility had become "very bad." This same individual said that although she did not see or hear the subject helicopter depart Fire Island, about fifteen minutes after the accident was known to have occurred, the visibility had improved to the point where she could easily see what turned out to be rescue helicopters searching for survivors.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

According to recorded radar tracking data, the aircraft impacted the water about six-tenth of a mile west of the mainland shoreline off the approach end of runway 06 right at Anchorage International Airport. Although the helicopter was not spotted during the original rescue mission, the survivors were located approximately at 61 degrees, 10.11 minutes north latitude, 150 degrees, 5.26 minutes west longitude. The helicopter, which is believed to have been moved from the accident site by the actions of the weather and tidal flows, was later recovered at approximate position 61 degrees, 10.35 minutes north latitude, 150 degrees, 7.45 minutes west longitude. At the time of its retrieval, one non-surviving passenger was found still buckled into the starboard middle aft-facing seat, and another was found buckled into the port aft front-facing seat. After the wreckage was removed from the water, it was taken to the Era Helicopters facility at Merrill Field where it underwent a detailed examination by the investigative team.

The fuselage was essentially intact, but displayed overall structural deformation consistent with significant vertical (downward) deceleration. The majority of the belly structure under the occupant cabin displayed upward hydrodynamic deformation, and the belly structure beneath the baggage compartment had been severely buckled/compressed inward into the baggage cavity. The cabin roof was flexed downward where it attaches to the front windshield center post, and the aft portion of the roof had fractured at its junction with the rear passenger door post (station 120.0), and was displaced downward to a point near the top of the aft passenger seats. Overload fractures were present on the lower fuselage skin at station 119.0, and compression buckling was evident at the base of the cockpit center console. Both sides of the upper fuselage skin directly below the engine showed significant buckling, and at the same location on the right side of the fuselage there was a tear in the skin across the top one-third of the fuselage. The structure from this location aft, to include the entire tail boom assembly, was canted downward about ten degrees from the longitudinal axis of the cabin. The skid-attached emergency floats had come out of their containment bags, but were not inflated. The float inflation gas bottle had been partially dislodged from its belly mount, but the gas delivery line was still attached and the bottle was fully charged. Both engine inlet snow baffles (deflectors) were still attached to the airframe and showed no signs of damage.

The cabin was essentially intact, with the flight controls and the instrument panel without major damage. The collective was in the full up position and the throttle twist-grip was in the IDLE position. Witness marks (scars) on the pilots anti-torque pedal linkage indicated that the left pedal was near the full-forward stop at the time of impact. The left collective, cyclic, and pedal assembly had been removed. The pilot's seat had flexed downward 3.5 inches and the left front passenger seat had flexed downward 3.75 inches. Both outboard aft seats and the starboard middle aft-facing seat showed a small downward deformation of their seat pan structure, but they had essentially maintained their structural rigidity.

The aft portion of the tail boom displayed fractures just forward of the 90-degree gearbox, and the 90-degree gearbox was still attached to its mount and appeared to operate normally. The tail rotor system was still attached to the 90-degree gearbox, and the flapping, feathering, and pitch-change mechanisms operated normally. Both tail rotor blades were intact, with one blade showing lateral crushing damage near its tip. There was an angular indentation and paint transfer area on the left topside of the tail rotor drive shaft cover, just aft of the tail rotor danger arrow, that was consistent with an impact of the main rotor. The drive shaft itself was flattened and sheared at the point that it passed under this impact area. The vertical fin was still attached to the aft section of the tail boom, and did not appear to be significantly damaged. The horizontal stabilizer was still attached to the tail boom, but the right stabilizer end plate was fractured at its base and deformed outward (away from the tail boom). The top inside surface of the endplate showed paint transfers and multiple parallel scar lines consistent with an impact from the leading edge of the rotating main rotor blade.

Except for a dent on the underside of one main rotor blade, just forward of the trim tab, the main rotor and rotor drive system appeared to be undamaged, intact, and functioning correctly. There was no evidence of control linkage or servo malfunction or anomaly. The main rotor freewheeling clutch unit was checked for proper free rotation and reengagement, and there was no evidence of malfunction. The transmission chip detector was examined and revealed no evidence of debris or contamination. The tail rotor drive shaft just aft of the transmission exhibited a torsional overload failure in a direction consistent with the main rotor driving and the tail rotor resisting.

The on-site inspection of the engine revealed N1 and N2 shaft continuity throughout the engine drive train. It was further determined that all oil, fuel, and pneumatic tubes/hoses were intact, and their fittings were tight and undamaged. The airframe fuel filter was intact and contained what visually appeared to be uncontaminated fuel. The Fuel Control Unit, Power Turbine Governor, and the fuel pump were intact, with linkages correctly attached. The engine was sent to the Rolls-Royce facility in Indianapolis, Indiana for a further detailed FAA-monitored/controlled teardown inspection. That inspection revealed no evidence of mechanical failures or anomalies, and the turbine rotor blade witness marks observed during the teardown were consistent with an engine running at a low or idle power setting. The Fuel Control Unit (FCU) and the Power Turbine Governor (PTG) were sent to the Honeywell facility in South Bend, Indiana, for a further FAA-monitored teardown inspection. That inspection revealed no mechanical irregularities or anomalies. The Fuel Pump was sent to the Argo-Tech facility in Cleveland, Ohio for a further FAA-monitored teardown inspection. Although that inspection did not reveal any damage (except for salt water corrosion) or mechanical malfunctions, during testing the pump's high speed flows were slightly below the manufacturer's in-service specifications for this model pump (P/N 386500-5). Further investigation and a written statement by Rolls-Royce confirmed that although the pump's high speed flow was slightly lower than the pump manufacture's specification, it met or exceeded all Rolls-Royce performance requirements for the subject engine at both 100% N1 and engine light-off (the critical design point for the pump system). According to Rolls-Royce, "This pump is satisfactory for running an engine throughout its full operating envelope."

In addition to the aforementioned tests/inspections, the light bulbs from the engine-out and low-rotor rpm warning systems were removed from their sockets and inspected to determine if there had been any filament stretch at the moment of impact (indicating the light may have been illuminated). All four bulbs were inspected at the NTSB's Anchorage Office, and two of the four were sent to the NTSB Materials Laboratory for further microscopic examination. None of the bulbs showed any clear indication of filament stretch or filament contact with the inside of the glass bulb surface.

ADDITIONAL DATA AND INFORMAITON

As part of the investigation, the Era Aviation, Inc. Helicopter Operations Manual was reviewed to determine what ceiling, visibility, and relevant weather-dictated operating limitations were in effect at the time of the accident, for single pilot, single engine, VFR-only, day operations. According to that manual, offshore operations required a ceiling of 400 feet and a visibility of 2 miles. These minimums could be reduced to a 300 foot ceiling and a visibility of 1 mile if the aircraft contained both an operating weather radar and radar altimeter, and if the pilot had reason to believe that the conditions of reduced ceiling and visibility were "temporary." Onshore operations required a ceiling of 300 feet and a visibility of 1 mile, but the visibility requirement could be reduced to one-half mile "if the pilot is familiar with the area in which the flight will take place." The manual also required that the pilot maintain a visual surface reference "sufficient to control the helicopter." The terms "onshore" and "offshore" were not defined in the manual.

In addition, section 508 of the manual (Whiteout Conditions) states; "The first and most important point is the decision to take off in marginal weather conditions where a whiteout is possible. If there is any doubt in your mind, DO NOT GO, wait for better conditions. It is not worth risking your life or your passengers." Section 508 also directs pilots to avoid flying over large flat areas "…when it is snowing or low visibility." The examples of such areas given in the manual are "…lakes, wide rivers, or flat tundra areas." It further states that during such conditions, the pilot should "…stay along a tree line, small streams, roads, power lines or railroads." Section 508 further instructs pilots to reduce their speed and get closer to their reference (tree line river bed, etc.) as the visibility lowers. In such conditions, it advises pilots to, "Increase your outside reference time and only come inside the cockpit when you feel it is absolutely necessary. The manual also states that, "This is also an important time to know exactly where you are so that whiteout areas can be avoided." It further states, "Unless you are familiar with the area, it may be best to wait on the ground for better weather."

During the investigation, Air Traffic Control (ATC) audiotapes and recorded radar tracking data were reviewed in order to determine the relative proximity to the accident site of any "heavy aircraft" operating in the area at the time of the impact. According to that data, the nearest heavy aircraft passed approximately one-half mile east of the accident site just over seven minutes prior to the accident. At that time, the subject aircraft (5781 Heavy) was descending through 1,300 feet MSL on the localizer to runway 06 right.

The FAA's Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory performed a forensic toxicological examination on specimens taken from the pilot. The examination revealed no evidence of carbon monoxide or cyanide in the pilot's blood, nor any ethanol or drugs in his urine.

The Office of the State of Alaska Medical Examiner performed an autopsy on the pilot, and the manner and cause of death were determined to be accidental by drowning.

When the pilot's body was recovered from a location separate from where the helicopter was found, it was evident that his Personal Flotation Device (PFD) was not inflated. As part of the investigation, the PFD was inspected and activated by pulling the inflations lanyards. The inspection revealed no indication of a malfunction of the PFD, and when activated, it inflated and remained so during the test period.

According to the individual who had been at Kincaid Park at the time of the accident, during the time when the snow was falling hard, he heard a "swooshing noise" coming from behind the trees at the bottom of the sledding hill. He said that to him it sounded like a helicopter, but since it seemed to be coming from a ground-level area behind the trees, he thought it had to be some other kind of machine making the noise. He reported that he heard the sound for about 30 seconds, and then it became silent. He didn't think anything of it, but later, after hearing about the accident, determined that it was probably the subject helicopter that he heard. A review of his location at the park revealed that the direction from which he heard the noise coming was in the direction of the impact point. He further said that he did not hear any loud or unusual noises prior to the termination of the rotor sound.


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