On February 16, 2002, at 0615 eastern standard time, a Bell 206L-1 helicopter, N23PJ, collided with trees while maneuvering for a landing at the Spruce Creek Airport near New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The on-demand air taxi flight was registered to and operated by Universal Air Service under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 135. The pilot had filed a company visual flight plan and had established flight following with Universal Air Service flight operation. Instrument flight conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The commercial pilot and his revenue passenger received fatal injuries. The flight departed Orlando, Florida, at 0550 on February 16, 2002.

According to the operator, the flight was scheduled for a 0600 departure from Orlando, Florida, with a passenger, and another passenger pick-up at Spruce Creek Airport. Universal Air Service personnel stated the pilot completed preflight planning, which included receiving a weather briefing from St. Petersburg Flight Service Station. Since the local air traffic control tower was not operational until 0600, the pilot reported his departure to Universal Air Service operation personnel.

When the helicopter failed to arrive at the destination airport, a waitng passenger became concerned, alerted local authorities, and a search for the helicopter was initiated. The downed helicopter was located several hours later in a swampy area approximately 6 miles southeast of Spruce Creek Airport.


The pilot held commercial ratings for multi-engine land, single-engine land, glider, rotorcraft, with instrument privileges. In addition, the pilot held a certified flight instructor rating for rotorcraft. The pilot accumulated 17,747 hours of total flight time, of which17,156 hours were in a rotorcraft. The pilot logged 300 hours within the last 90 days, and 100 hours within the last 30 days. The pilot was off on the day prior to the accident. The pilot also held a second class medical certification with limitations dated November 7, 2001.

A review of the pilot's flight records showed that he completed a biennial flight review on November 14, 2001. The pilot was hired by Universal Air as a part-time employee in 1996. He was updated to captain on September 6, 2000. He became a fulltime employee on December 17, 2001.


The helicopter, N23PJ, airframe serial number was 45269. The seven seat turbo shaft helicopter was powered by an Allison 250-C28B, engine. The engine was rated at 500 shaft horsepower; the engine serial number was CAE 860167. At the time of the accident the total time recorded on the engine was 5460.1 hours. A review of the engine maintenance logs revealed the helicopter had a 100-hour maintenance inspection on November 30, 2001. The helicopter maintenance logs showed that the helicopter had flown 60 hours since the 100 hour-inspection. A review of the helicopter maintenance logs revealed the helicopter had a total time of 6166 hours.


The flight departed Orlando, Florida, at 0550. At 0453 eastern standard time Orlando weather observation facility reported; wind 260 degrees at 3 knots, few clouds at 8500 feet, overcast at 11000 feet. The temperature was 61 degrees Fahrenheit dew point 57 degrees Fahrenheit and rain. The altimeter setting was 30.07

At 0553, eastern standard time the Daytona Beach weather observation facility reported; wind 260 degrees at 3 knots, temperature 61 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 61 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest ceiling was reported at 100 feet above ground level. The surface visibility was reported to be 1/4 statute miles and fog. The altimeter setting was 30.08 inches of mercury. According to local law enforcement personnel at the accident site, low clouds and reduced visibility existed at the approximate time of the accident.


Examination of the accident site showed that the wreckage debris from the helicopter was scattered over an area approximately 300 feet long and 40 feet wide. The wreckage path was orientated on a 350 degree magnetic heading. Examination of the accident site showed freshly broken trees that were broken 80 above the ground, 275 feet southeast of the main wreckage. Another tree was broken 20 feet above the ground and was approximately 225 feet south east of the main wreckage. A three-foot high stump was also broken about 200 feet southeast of the main wreckage.

The helicopter identification plate was not recovered. Both main rotor blades were separated near the aft end of the blade assembly doublers. The main rotor hub remained attached to the mast. The main spars for each blade outboard of the doublers were missing. The main rotor blades had fractures no larger than 1square feet. Not all of the main rotor blade sections were recovered from the swampy accident site.

The helicopter airframe was separated into several pieces. The cabin area sustained extensive damage and the door posts were fractured. The roof and beam assembly was intact. There was fire damage to the bottom side of the transmission assembly. In this section the control tubes for the tail rotor had been burned. The upper cowlings were separated in several pieces. The floor assembly showed evidence of fire damage. The aft fuselage section had separated and the forward tail boom section was still attached.

The tail boom assembly midsection was intact. The forward end of the tail boom was separated at the aft end of the intercostals. The aft tail boom section separated approximately 5 inches forward of the aft hanger bearing support bracket. This aft section of the tail boom assembly had the tail rotor gearbox and tail rotor assembly attached. The tail rotor gearbox rotated freely. A portion of the aft section of the tail rotor control tube was pushed and corresponding pitch change was noted on tail rotor assembly.

The vertical fin was not attached to the aft tail boom. The vertical fin was recovered approximately 160 feet from the main wreckage. The horizontal stabilizer was separated in two places on the left side. The left finlet was not attached. The right stabilizer had a partial separation on the bottom of its skin that did not fracture through the top surface. The controllable elevators from both sides had separated. The leading edge slats were separated, and the right inboard section remained attached.

The helicopter was equipped with high skid gear and flight steps. The skids and cross tube was recovered approximately 45 feet from the main wreckage. The left skid tube was separated in three places. The right skid tube was intact. The left flight step was recovered from a tree. All four saddles to cross tube installations were separated. The front cross tube was bent in the right hand curved section of the tube. The aft cross tube was flattened, and small pieces of the belly remained attached.

Avionics components were separated from their respective mounts on the console and radio rack. The fuel bladder and fuel system was fire damaged and much of the fuel system was not recovered.

The engine received a 100 hour inspection on November 30, 2001, 63 hours prior to the accident. Examination of the engine exterior revealed deformation damage. The deformation area was limited to the area of the starter/generator, fuel control, power turbine governor and pneumatic lines. The bi-pod mounts and the rear turbine engine mount was fractured. The power turbine governor drive body was also fractured. The governor internal components remained intact and the driveshaft rotated freely.

A complete disassembly inspection of the engine was conducted on July 12, 2002, at the Rolls-Royce facility Indianapolis, Indiana. Examination of the engine exterior revealed crushing of the bottom of dome and lower combustion fitting of the outer combustion case. The left-hand compressor air discharge tube had multiple bending and buckling. The exhaust stack was crushed inward. The aft section of the horizontal fire shield was bent.

The power turbine governor was fractured 360 degree the circumference. The compressor shroud assembly showed rub from impeller contact in both the inducer and exducer. The inducer rub was light and covered an area of approximately 120 degrees. The exducer showed light 360 degree rub. The impeller blades showed 360 degree uniform rub at the exducer and inducer. There was dirt deposits noted within the compressor scroll and air discharge tube which is representative of foreign material ingestion. The engine examination did not reveal evidence of a pre-impact mechanical failure.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot on February 16, 2002, by the Office of the Medical Examiner Florida, District 7 & 24 Volusia County. A comprehensive toxicological analysis was performed on specimens from the pilot for the Medical Examiner by Wuesthoff Reference Laboratories on April 9, 2002. This analysis noted 117mg/dl of ethanol in clotted blood, 153mg/dl of ethanol in vitreous, and 101mg/dl in muscle. The final diagnosis of the Office of the Medical Examiner Florida, Districts 7 & 24 Volusia County states that the causes of death of the pilot and passenger were blunt force trauma.

The FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (FAA-CAMI) toxicology laboratory performed toxicology testing on the pilot and passenger. The FAA-CAMI toxicology examination of the pilot noted 115mg/dl of ethanol, 3mg/dl of acetaldehyde, and 1mg/dl of n-propanol detected in the blood. 101mg/dl of ethanol, and 8mg/dl of acetaldehyde in brain and 33mg/dl of ethanol detected in muscle. No carbon monoxide or cyanide was detected in the blood specimen.

The FAA-CAMI toxicological examination performed on the passenger noted no ethanol in the blood or the heart.


Radar data was recovered by the 84 RADES Radar Data Interface System (RDIS) located at OLAC, Tyndall U.S. Air Force Base in Florida. A review of the data showed that the helicopter was on short flight from Orlando International Airport to Spruce Creek Airport. The departure time was approximately 0530, and the arrival time was approximately 0615. The radar data depicts tracking information regarding the last moments of flight.

Additional Information

The helicopter wreckage was released to U.S. Aviation Underwriters on August 16, 2002.

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