IAD02LA094
IAD02LA094

On September 14, 2002, at 1145 eastern daylight time, a Garlick OH-58AT helicopter, N444JB, was substantially damaged during a takeoff attempt from a cranberry bog in Rochester, Massachusetts. The certificated commercial pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the external load flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 133.

According to a Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission inspector, the pilot had made numerous lifts on the morning of the accident, with the similar cranberry loads, into the wind, at a different location. The accident occurred during a first lift in a new location.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector performed an on-scene examination of the helicopter and interviewed witnesses. According to the inspector, witnesses stated that the helicopter was hovering approximately 12 feet above the ground with a left quartering tailwind (between 5-7 knots) when the ground crew secured a 900-pound cargo basket filled with cranberries to a 15-foot long sling load line. When the cargo basket was being secured, the helicopter was positioned forward of the load. Once the load was secured and the ground crew was clear of the helicopter, the helicopter flew forward and dragged the cargo basket behind. The cargo basket then collided with a ditch and the pilot jettisoned the load. After the pilot released the load, the helicopter pitched up, the main rotor blades severed the tail boom, and the main rotor assembly separated from the helicopter. The helicopter fell about 15 feet to the ground, and rolled over on to its left side.

The inspector said that there were no obstructions that would have impeded the helicopter from departing into the wind.

In a written statement, a witness, who was harvesting cranberries, heard a "large pop", similar to the sound of semi-automatic handgun, but magnified. He then looked up, and observed the helicopter pitch forward, facing north-northeast, about 16-20 feet above the ground. The witness reported seeing smoke or debris exiting the rear, left side of the helicopter.

Another witness reported seeing a foot-long flame coming out of the left exhaust pipe, followed by an explosion. The helicopter then "leaned" to the right, and fell about 15 feet to the ground. It then shredded parts, and rolled on to its left side.

The main rotor assembly came to rest about 58 feet from the main wreckage. The tail boom, which included the vertical fin, tail rotor gearbox and tail rotor assembly, came to rest approximately 105 feet from the main wreckage. Examination of the tail rotor blades revealed that one blade was not damaged, and the other blade exhibited minor damage.

Examination of the main rotor assembly revealed that it had separated from the main rotor mast below the contact areas for the static stops. There was also evidence of mast bumping.

The pilot's cyclic was broken off at the base, the collective was in the full down position, and the throttle was in the full open position.

Approximately 20 gallons of fuel remained in the fuel tank, and the engine torque meter gauge indicated 80 percent.

Examination of the engine revealed there was some post impact damage to the compressor, but it spun freely. The gas generator section also spun freely.

The pilot held a commercial certificate with ratings for rotorcraft-helicopter, and airplane single engine land, multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. He was also a certified flight instructor with ratings for rotorcraft-helicopter and airplane single engine land.

His most recent FAA second class medical was issued on March 15, 2002. At that time, he reported a total of 7,675 flight hours. The FAA reported the pilot had 4,000 flight hours in make and model.

Weather at New Bedford Regional Airport (EWB), New Bedford, Massachusetts, about 6 miles west of the accident site, at 1153, included winds from 200 degrees at 8 knots, 8 miles visibility, and clear skies.

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