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On June 27, 2002, at 0758 mountain daylight time, a Bell 206BIII helicopter, N2779B, was destroyed following impact with transmission lines while maneuvering near Raton, New Mexico. The commercial pilot and his passenger were fatally injured. Aero West Helicopters, Albuquerque, New Mexico, was operating the helicopter under Title 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the cross-country flight that originated from Raton, New Mexico, approximately 45 minutes before the accident. A flight plan had not been filed.
The pilot and his passenger, an employee of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, were flying a power line inspection patrol for possible maintenance needs. A refueler at Raton Municipal Airport said the helicopter was "topped off" with 61 gallons of Jet A fuel, and it departed at approximately 0715. A Tri-State Generation and Transmission employee said the Springer substation (located 17 nautical miles (nm) south of the Raton Municipal Airport) was the origin of the transmission wire going to the York Canyon Mine Complex of the Pittsburgh & Midway (P&M) Coal Mining Co. where the accident occurred. A witness, located approximately 3 nm south of the accident site, said he saw the helicopter flying northwest, level with the wires. Another witness observed the helicopter flying northbound. Moments later, it exploded "in a fireball."
The pilot took his last second class FAA flight medical examination on February 27, 2002, and at that time he reported on his application that he had 4,500 hours of flight experience, with 260 hours during the last 6 months. Documentation from the pilot's employer indicates that he had approximately 5,065 hours of flight experience at the time of the accident, with approximately 4,700 hours in helicopters. The pilot's flight logbook was never located, and the date of his last CFR 14 Part 135 check ride was March 5, 2002.
The helicopter was a single engine, two-bladed main rotor, five seat aircraft, which was manufactured by Bell Helicopter in 1978. It was powered by an Allison 250-C20B turbo shaft, reverse flow engine that had a maximum sea level rating of 420 horsepower. The airframe and engine each had approximately 14,201 hours of flight time. The helicopter had a 91 gallons fuel capacity, and it was not equipped with wire cutters.
An Aero West Helicopters employee said wire inspection flights were flown between 40 and 50 knots, on the right side of the transmission system, with the main rotor a "few" feet above the highest wire, but not over-lapping the wire. This permitted the observer, sitting in the left seat, to have an optimum view.
At 0753, the weather conditions at the Raton Municipal Airport (elevation 6,352 feet), Raton, New Mexico, 095 degrees 20 nautical miles (nm) from the accident site, was as follows: wind 080 degrees for 5 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; clear of clouds; temperature 61 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 46 degrees Fahrenheit; altimeter setting 30.26 inches. At 0800, the sun's altitude was 24 degrees above the horizon, and its azimuth was 78 degrees east of north.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The helicopter was found (N36 degrees, 49.58'; W104 degrees, 54.50'; elevation 7,145 feet) on an open, rolling field located on the York Canyon Mine Complex of the Pittsburgh & Midway (P&M) Coal Mining Co. Three 61 foot high transmission poles were located approximately 180 feet, at 340 degrees from the main wreckage. Each of their transmission wires were oriented 340-160 degrees, and were protected by two higher 3/8 inch in diameter galvanized steel static cables. Two additional 3/8 inch in diameter galvanized steel static cables joined the two eastern most poles on a 310 degree orientation; they had no associated transmission wires. These two additional static cables were associated with another set of transmission wires located approximately 175 feet to the east.
All of the helicopter's major components were accounted for at the accident site. The cabin area of the fuselage, main transmission, and hydraulic and flight control components were consumed by postimpact fire. The engine was found in two pieces, which were located outside of the burn zone. The main rotor system separated from the aircraft as a result of a fracture of the mast at the static stops. The aircraft manufacture's representative said "the tail boom had fractured at two locations due to strikes from the main rotor." All three segments of the tail boom were found with no fire damage.
No preimpact engine or airframe anomalies, which might have affected the airplane's performance, were identified.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The University of New Mexico's School of Medicine's Office of the Medical investigator, Albuquerque, New Mexico, performed an autopsy on the pilot on June 28, 2002.
The FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology tests on the pilot. According to CAMI's report (#200200163001), the blood was tested for carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles (ethanols), and drugs, with negative results.
TEST AND RESEARCH
The modification of the six main transmission wires junction, three coming from 160 degrees and three coming from 130 degrees, occurred on January 1, 2000. Before that time, the three wires coming from 160 degrees joined the other three, and proceeded north on the same poles. Hence, their respective static wires also joined at these poles. After January 1, 2000, the three transmission wires coming from 160 degrees, turned to 340 degrees (paralleling the other set of wires), approximately 175 east of the first set of three wires. Their original static wires were left in place.
The helicopter, including all components and logbooks, was released to a representative of the owner's insurance company on September 23, 2002.
This report was modified on November 21, 2005.