On February 20, 2003, approximately 1600 central standard time, an Aerospatiale AS-350-B3 single-engine helicopter, N439AE, sustained substantial damage when it impacted the terrain during a hard landing near Clyde, Texas. The instrument rated commercial pilot and a flight nurse were not injured, and a flight paramedic sustained minor injuries. The helicopter was owned by Enchantment Aviation, Inc., of Fairacres, New Mexico, and doing business as Southwest Air Ambulance, of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prevailed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 repositioning flight for which a company visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan was filed. The flight originated from the Abilene Regional Airport (ABI), Abilene, at 1556, and was destined to the Eastland Hospital helipad, Eastland, Texas, to pick up a patient for transfer. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
According to the 2,266-hour pilot, at 1540, he received an "888 weather check page" for a possible flight. At that time, the weather at ABI was 1,100 foot ceilings and 7 miles visibility. At 1556, the helicopter departed to the east, and the pilot followed Interstate 20. Shortly after departure while at 500 feet agl, the weather started to deteriorate. Prior to reversing direction, the pilot slowed the helicopter and started a descent. At the start of the descent, the helicopter entered IMC. The pilot stated the helicopter broke out of the clouds at 50 feet agl. The pilot was unaware of the descent rate and attempted to slow the descent by raising the collective. Subsequently, the pilot was unable to slow the descent rate, the helicopter sustained a hard landing, and came to rest upright in the middle of the roadway on Interstate 20.
The flight paramedic checked the weather prior to the flight and noticed a large area of rain on the radar to the south and east of ABI. He then questioned the pilot whether the flight should be attempted. The paramedic stated the weather deteriorated rapidly while enroute and requested more than once for the pilot to abort the flight. Approximately 300 feet agl, the helicopter entered complete IMC.
According to an FAA inspector, who examined the helicopter at the company hangar at ABI, the helicopter sustained structural damage to the airframe near the crosstube saddles, and the tailboom skin was wrinkled.
At 1552, the ABI automated surface observing system (ASOS), located approximately 8 miles east of the accident site, reported the wind from 040 degrees at 6 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, ceiling overcast at 1,100 feet, temperature 46 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 43 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 29.98 inches of Mercury.
At 1600, the ABI ASOS, reported the wind from 040 degrees at 7 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, decreasing rain, ceiling overcast at 900 feet, temperature 46 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 43 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 29.99 inches of Mercury.
At 1652, the ABI ASOS reported the wind from 040 degrees at 7 knots, 7 statute miles visibility, decreasing rain, sky broken at 700 feet and ceiling overcast at 1,100 feet, temperature 45 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 43 degrees Fahrenheit, and altimeter setting of 29.95 inches of Mercury.