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On May 23, 2002, approximately 1530 Pacific daylight time, a Robinson R-22 Mariner, N2322Y, was substantially damaged after it collided with a phone line support cable and subsequently the terrain near Merlin, Oregon. The helicopter was registered to the pilot, and was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) aerial observation flight under the provisions of Title 14, CFR Part 91. The commercial pilot and passenger were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from Grants Pass, Oregon, approximately 30 minutes prior to the accident. There was no fire and no report of ELT activation.
A volunteer worker for the local public service group that organizes and manages the annual "Boatnik" festivities on Memorial Day weekend reported that the pilot had been hired to photograph the boat race events. The volunteer worker met the pilot and his wife on the morning of the accident at the Spalding Mill, located on the east side of Grants Pass. The pilot had brought the helicopter in on a trailer that morning and assembled it for flight at this site.
About 1100, the volunteer worker and the pilot boarded the helicopter for the purpose of flying down the Rogue River corridor to survey the race course and to identify all bridges and wires along the route. The volunteer reported that they flew over the river at a low altitude, near or below treetops in the areas of interest to photograph during the race. The volunteer reported that he recalled seeing the set of high power lines that span the river a short distance upstream of where the accident occurred later that day. The pilot had gained altitude to fly over these wires. The volunteer did not recall seeing the support cable that the helicopter collided with during the accident flight. The flight returned to Spalding Mill after about 35 to 40 minutes of flight time. The volunteer reported that they did not fly over the town. The pilot's wife then boarded the helicopter and took off for a similar observation flight. When the pilot returned, he indicated to the volunteer that he needed to go over to the Grants Pass Airport for fuel. While at the airport, the passenger on board the helicopter at the time of the accident had met with the pilot to solicit the pilot's services to assist in locating a missing person in the Rainey Falls area. The pilot had agreed to assist in this activity and flew back to the Spalding Mill where the passenger then boarded the helicopter. The volunteer reported that this flight took off about 1500.
A witness located at the OK Corral, on the south side of the river from where the accident site was located, and about an eighth of a mile inland from the rivers edge, reported that he heard the helicopter traveling northwest bound over the Rouge River. The witness reported that he did not hear any rpm change in the engine until the helicopter collided with the cable. After striking the cable, the engine rpm slowed, but did not stop.
Other witnesses, also located at the OK Corral, reported that they were on the back deck. The river is partially visible from the deck, however, the crash site is not. One witness reported that the helicopter was observed flying downstream about 50-100 feet above the river. About two to three seconds after seeing the helicopter, the engine sputtered at least twice before the engine stopped. The helicopter was out of view when a loud "boom" was then heard. The other witness stated that the helicopter was "flying pretty low" before trees obstructed his view. He then heard a series of "snap, snap, pop" noises. The helicopter was behind trees and he did not see the collision.
One other person, located in Grants Pass, reported that he saw a helicopter with pontoons fly overhead his place of business at about 1435 on the day of the accident. Later, when he heard of the accident, he believed that it was the same helicopter. This person stated that the engine sounded like it was "cutting out." The helicopter lost about 100 feet in altitude, then regained the altitude. This person believed that the helicopter was heading for the airport, as it was a short distance away. He also reported that he was certain that there were two men on board at the time.
At the time of the accident the pilot held a private pilot certificate for single-engine land aircraft and a commercial pilot certificate for rotorcraft operations. The rotorcraft rating was obtained in November 1998, and the commercial certificate was obtained in January 2001. The addition of both the rotorcraft rating and commercial certificate were flown in the accident aircraft. The pilot's most current flight logbook beginning February 1996, was reviewed. Approximately 49.4 hours of flight time were in a Rotorway Executive, and 7.4 hours were flown in a Bell 206 before the first flight in a Robinson R22 was made in October 1996. The first flight in the accident aircraft was in February 1997. The logbook indicated a total flight time in all rotorcraft was approximately 707 hours, with 650 hours in the Robinson R22. A total of approximately 572 hours as pilot-in-command were logged for the accident aircraft make and model. The current logbook did not reflect single-engine land flight time, however, the Federal Aviation Administration medical division reported that the pilot indicated a total flight time in all aircraft as 2,000 hours on his last medical application dated February 1, 2002. The pilot was issued a second class medical certificate on this date with no waivers or limitations reported.
The last logbook entry was dated May 20, 2002, a one hour local flight in Kingman, Arizona. The remarks section indicated, "preparing to go to Oregon."
The airframe and engine logbooks were reviewed. The logbooks indicated the last annual inspection was completed on July 6, 2001. A total of approximately 30 hours had been accumulated on the aircraft since the last inspection.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage was located partially submerged on the north bank of the Rogue River at 42 degrees 31.450 minutes north latitude, 123 degrees 29.623 minutes west longitude. The helicopter was laying on its left side. The right side float was intact and still inflated. The left side float was destroyed. Both main rotor blades remained attached to the mast. The width of the river at this point was estimated to be about 75 yards wide. About 300 feet upstream (east) of the main wreckage, two cables running perpendicular to the river were located. One of the two cables was broken and in the water. The other cable was intact, but not taut, and displayed a considerable droop. The 1/8 inch in diameter cables were not marked and later identified as a telephone line support cable. The telephone line itself had been removed sometime in 1994-1995. The cable was strung from a power pole on the south shore near the OK Corral. The other end traveled over to the north shore and along up sloping terrain to another pole about 75 to 100 yards inland. Debris from the helicopter was located on the north shoreline between the downed cable and the main wreckage. A magnetic heading of approximately 260 degrees was measured along the debris path. The first wreckage documented was broken Plexiglas and the aft end of the empennage section with tail rotor and stabilizers attached. Evidence of ground impact was noted on the rocky terrain. In the shallow water just off shore, the control pedestal and rudder pedals were located.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by Josephine County Deputy State Medical Examiner, Central Point, Oregon. The Medical Examiner reported that the pilot's cause of death was due to severe blunt head, neck, chest, abdominal, and pelvic trauma.
Toxicological samples were sent to the Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aeromedical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for analysis. The results of the analysis were negative.
The wreckage was removed from the river and taken to a storage facility at the airport. Later the wreckage was moved to HLM Services, Independence, Oregon. On June 11, 2002, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board continued the examination of the wreckage. During the examination, control continuity was established from the cyclic control, collective, and anti-torque pedals. Continuity was established from the anti-torque pedals through the push pull tube, to the tail rotor gearbox. Two breaks to the tail boom were noted. The tail rotor drive shaft was pulled out of the yoke attachment. The last 24 inches remained attached at the gear box. The remainder of the drive shaft was not recovered. Both the push pull tube and drive shaft tubes at the aft end were collapsed. The push pull tub outer surface at the collapse displayed black smear transfer marks.
The first break in the tail boom was measured 28 inches aft of the forward attachment. A 64 inch section of the boom, matched up to the first separation point. Approximately 17 inches of the aft boom was missing at this point. Attached to this section of the tail boom, is the rotating beacon. Fragments of the light case were found at the accident site. The remaining 24 inch section of the tailboom consisted of the tail rotors, gearbox and vertical and horizontal stabilizers. The tail rotor gearbox was intact. Both tail rotor blades remained attached to the hub. Tail rotor blade "A" was bent aft six inches from the attachment link. Compression bending was noted to the trailing edge. Blade "B" was bent about six inches outboard of the attachment link. No leading edge damage was noted to either blade.
Both the vertical and horizontal stabilizers were intact with no leading edge damage noted. The tail guard was intact.
The left side of the fuselage was crushed inward. The cockpit bubble Plexiglas was completely broken out, as well as the center pedestal and anti-torque pedals were detached. The center support down the middle of the cabin was missing. The cockpit area was severely compromised. The seatbelt attach points on the inboard side for both the pilot and passenger were pulled out.
The mast fairing assembly remained around the main rotor mast. A small leading edge indent was noted on the fairing. The remainder of the fairing was intact.
Both main rotor blades remained attached to the main rotor hub. Both blades were bent downward. The damage documented for Blade "A" noted that 23 inches of the blade was broken off 52 inches inboard from the tip. Red paint transfer marks were noted at seven inches and 23 inches from the tip. At the seven inch point a slight gouge was noted on the leading edge. The tip weight was intact. Blade "B" noted a 90 degree bend about 23 inches from the hub. The remainder of the blade material was intact. The tip weight was intact. The main rotor bumpers were severely damaged. One bumper was cut in half, while the other one was nearly cut in half. Both pitch change links were broken. The fracture surfaces were rough in appearance and appeared overload.
The right side skid float was intact at the accident and still inflated. The skid legs remained attached to the fuselage. The left side skid floats were severely damaged. Of the four compartments, the forward three were compromised. The last compartment was not recovered.
The Lycoming O-320-B2C engine, serial number L-17178-39A, was severely damaged on the left side. The carburetor was broken off at the mount. The right side magneto was also broken from its mount. No further inspection was accomplished to the engine.
The wreckage was released to the owner's representative on June 19, 2002. At the time, the wreckage remained at HLM Air Services, Independence, Oregon.