On February 22, 2004, about 1125 Eastern standard time, a skid equipped Hiller UH-12B helicopter, N5304V, sustained substantial damage during an emergency landing following a loss of engine power in Bradenton, Florida. The helicopter was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country instructional flight under Title 14, CFR Part 91, when the accident occurred. The solo certificated airline transport pilot was not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated at the Orlando Executive Airport, Orlando, Florida, about 1000, and was en route to the Dove Heliport, Sarasota, Florida.

During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge on February 22, the pilot reported that the purpose of the flight was a solo cross-country flight as part of a helicopter add-on rating. He said that he thought that there was enough fuel for about 1.7 hours of flight time, but after only 1.5 hours of flight time, as the flight neared the destination heliport, the engine began to run rough and lose power. The pilot said that he lowered the helicopter's collective and entered an autorotation, and selected an unoccupied playground as an emergency landing site. He said that as the helicopter descended into the playground area, he had to raise the collective slightly in order to avoid a stand of trees, and the main rotor speed decayed. The helicopter's skids subsequently struck the ground hard, and the helicopter rolled onto its right side, sustaining structural damage to the fuselage, tail boom, and main rotor drive system. The pilot noted that there were no preaccident mechanical anomalies with the helicopter.

On February 22, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airworthiness Inspector from the Tampa Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), traveled to the accident site and inspected the helicopter wreckage prior to recovery. The FAA inspector reported that the helicopter's fuel tank appeared to be empty, and that the accident pilot agreed with him.

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