On August 2, 2002, at 1952 central daylight time, a Bell 412, N464AC, operated by Air Center Helicopters, Inc., piloted by an airline transport pilot, was taking off from the Rantoul National Aviation Center-Frank Elliot Field Airport (TIP), Rantoul Illinois, with a load of skydivers, when its main rotor struck a photographer on the ground. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The 14 CFR Part 91 business flight was not operating on a flight plan. The pilot and nine passengers were uninjured. The photographer was fatally injured. The local flight was originating at the time of the accident.

The pilot stated in a written statement, "Aircraft was loaded with skydivers by ground crew and area was cleared for takeoff. Ground crew pointed out 4 canopies in vicinity of takeoff area on approach to maintain visual during takeoff. I initiated takeoff while monitoring canopies and began a turn onto taxiway to clear the area when I heard a blade strike. I looked immediately in the direction and saw a person falling down and aborted the takeoff and landed.

A crewmember stated in a written statement, "Earlier today this individual rode with us. After coming back from his skydive he asked me if he could lay on the ground [and] have the helicopter fly by him so he could take a picture. I told him no that was not allowed. He said OK and walked away. This was about one hour before the incident."

A second crewmember stated in a written statement, "At the time of the accident, I had arrived just prior to loading of the last load of skydivers for the day. [Two] crew members were spotting for the takeoff. No obstructions were seen and lift off was given. I was standing in the grass on the runway side of the takeoff. To the runway side of the cornfield. I watched as the 412 did it's takeoff and started its turn inward over the corn field. As the 412 turned a person appeared out of nowhere. I saw the person in a yellow shirt just drop to the knees and fall..."

The TIP automated weather observing system, recorded at 1846, wind from 070 degrees at 9 knots; 10 statue mile surface visibility; broken clouds at 4,300 feet agl, 5,500 feet agl and 6,500 feet agl; temperature of 26 degrees Celsius (C) and dew point of 21 degrees C; altimeter setting of 30.10 inches of mercury. The University of Illinois-Willard Airport, Champaign, Illinois, automated surface observing system located 16 nautical miles north of TIP recorded lightning to the south. The pilot reported that winds were from the north at 15 knots gusting to 20 knots at the time of the accident.

The helicopter was a twin engine, fifteen place helicopter with a single four-bladed main rotor and a tail rotor. The main rotor blades are 46 feet in diameter and 11 feet 5 inches above the helicopter's ground line at design gross weight (dimensions are approximate due to variations in loading and alighting gear deflection).

A witness video recording of the accident and a photo of the photographer's position are included in the docket of this report.

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