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On June 27, 2004 at 0530 eastern daylight time a Robinson Helicopter R44, N441MG, registered to and operated by MG Aviation, collided with trees, and burst into flames during a cross-country flight in a residential area in Barnesville, Georgia. The personal flight was operated under provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident and no flight plan was filed. The helicopter sustained substantial damage. The certified flight instructor, and two passengers were fatally injured. The flight originated from Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, Greer, South Carolina, on June 27, 2004 approximately 0300.
According to the mechanic of MG Aviation the purpose of the cross-country flight was to take the pilot's wife to visit her grandmother in a hospital in Florida. The pilot called the mechanic at 0100, the morning of the flight to ask about the maintenance on helicopters N441MG and N229CH. He then called his flight instructor to accompany him on the cross-country flight to Florida. The mechanic stated that the flight instructor came by his residence to pick up his flight bag at 0200 shortly after returning from a music concert. The flight instructor then confirmed with the mechanic the same story that the pilot had told him about leaving in morning for Florida. The mechanic asked if he needed any assistance in preparing for the flight to Florida, and the flight instructor replied that the pilot prepared everything for the flight. That was the last conversation the mechanic had with the flight instructor.
According to a witness, at 0530 a helicopter was heard over the residential area in Barnesville, Georgia. Shortly afterward, an explosion was heard. Witnesses searched the area, and a helicopter was located in the back of a residential home engulfed in flames. Efforts to extinguish the flames were unsuccessful. First responders to the accident site reported dense fog conditions. No radio transmissions were received from the pilot prior to the accident.
Review of the certified flight instructors flight records revealed, he was issued a flight instructor rating on May 02, 2004 with rotorcraft-helicopter, instrument-helicopter, commercial pilot ratings. Review of flight logbook records revealed his total flight time was 294.3 flight hours. The flight instructor held a second-class medical certificate dated December 12, 2002 and valid when wearing corrective lenses.
Review of the private pilots flight records revealed, he was issued a private pilot certificate on April 7, 2004, with ratings for rotorcraft-helicopter. Review of logbook records revealed his total flight time was 118.6 flight hours.
Review of aircraft maintenance logbooks revealed that the last recorded altimeter, static, and transponder system checks were completed on December 27, 2002. The last 100-hour/annual inspections were conducted on January 18, 2004.
Review of the Robinson R44 pilot-operating handbook, Section 2, Limitations, states: VFR day is approved. VFR night is permitted only when landing, navigational, instrument, and anti-collision lights are operational. Orientation during night flight must be maintained by visual reference to ground objects illuminated solely by lights on the ground or adequate celestial illumination.
The National Weather Service, Surface Analysis chart for 0900Z depicted a stationary front extending across South Carolina and northern Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, to the Louisiana/ Arkansas border, into eastern Texas. The front was located immediately north of the accident site and in the immediate vicinity of the departure station of Greer, South Carolina. Light pressure gradient existed across the area with several stations reporting mist/fog with temperature-dew point spreads of less than 4-degrees Fahrenheit.
The National Weather Service, Depiction Chart for 1000Z depicted an area of IFR conditions over Georgia and Alabama, and including the accident site. A larger area of marginal visual flight rules conditions extending over most of Georgia, Alabama, and western South Carolina. The station models indicated overcast sky conditions with ceilings at 400 feet in the surrounding the accident site.
The closest observation to the accident site was the Thomaston-Upson Country Airport (KOPN), Thomaston, Georgia, located approximately 11 miles south-southwest of the accident site. The Terminal Area Forecast for KOPN effective at 0942Z, forecasted winds at 240 at 3 knots, 2 ½ statue miles visibility, overcast at 200 feet, temperature 22-degrees Celsius, dew point 22-degrees Celsius, barometric setting 30.13. The in-flight weather advisory issued at 0734Z, was Airmet Sierra for IFR conditions valid until 1400Z.
The astronomical data from the US naval Observatory revealed the following conditions for Barnesville, Georgia. The beginning of civil twilight: 0601 eastern daylight time, and sunrise: 0630 eastern daylight time. At the time of the accident the Sun was approximately 11 degrees below the horizon.
First responders to the scene of the accident site reported dense fog as they arrived at the accident site. There was no record of the pilot receiving a weather briefing before the departure or while en route.
Examination of the wreckage site revealed the helicopter came to rest approximately 25 yards behind a residential home. The wreckage path was approximately 35 feet in length on a northerly heading. Freshly cut trees were along the wreckage path. The helicopter came to rest at the base of a tree and the main fuselage was fire damaged. The tail boom section was broken, and buckled. The main rotor blades were buckled and separated from the main rotor mass. The tail rotor shaft was separated from the tail boom and lodge in a tree. The tail rotor gearbox was separated and the tail rotor blades were broken. The landing skids were broken and separated from the fuselage. Additional helicopter wreckage debris was found forward of the main wreckage. The helicopter was recovered and taken to a facility for further examination.
Post accident examination of the cockpit and cabin section revealed that they were fire damaged. All of the removable flight controls were installed. The collective slider was separated, and the collective was in a full up position. The carburetor heat and mixture control cables were separated from their mounting locations. The mixture control was in the full rich position. The fuel tanks were fire damaged. The fuel valve knob and fuel valve body were both in the ON position. The remainder of the fuel system was crush and fire damaged. The empennage was separated from the tailcone, and the rear tail cone casting was fractured. The tail rotor gearbox was separated from the empennage and tailcone. The empennage was intact, and the horizontal stabilizer had a dent on the leading edge near the vertical stabilizers.
Post accident examination of the powerplant controls revealed that they were fire damaged. The engine was fire damaged, and the crankshaft rotated with valve train continuity observed at all cylinders. Suction and compression were noted at all cylinder positions. Accessory gear section rotation and continuity was also observed. The left and right magnetos were fire damaged and spark was not obtained. The carburetor fuel inlet screen was observed free of debris. The oil filter element and oil suction screen were free of debris. Post accident examination of the engine did not reveal any mechanical anomalies.
Post accident examination of the drive belts revealed that they were fire damaged. The belt tension actuator was fractured at the upper bearing. Both upper and lower actuator bearings rotated freely. The sprag clutch locked and freewheeled, and the forward flex coupling was undamaged.
Post accident examination of the main rotor gearbox revealed it contained oil and rotated the output shaft. The main rotor shaft was fractured at approximately four inches down from the teeter bolt hole. The droop stops were both intact and in place. The spindle tusks for both blades were intact. The elastomeric teeter stop and retention bracket for main rotor blade serial number 3188A was intact, but the elastomeric stop was fire damaged.
Post accident examination of the teeter stop bracket for main rotor blade serial number 3049A revealed it was broken. The elastomeric teeter stop was split horizontally. The main rotor shaft exhibited a large dent inboard of the spindle. The main rotor hub exhibited scoring inboard of the pitch change bearing boots on both sides of the hub.
Post accident examination of the main rotor blades revealed blade serial number 3049A was fire damaged and exhibited a downward bend approximately three inches from the coning bolt. Seven inches from the coning bolt the blade was fractured. The outboard section of the blade was also bent downward. Post accident examination of the main rotor blade serial number 3188A revealed it was intact with a slight upward and aft bend. The intermediate flex coupling was fractured at the flexplate arms, which attached to the tail rotor driveshaft yoke arms, and the flexplate arms were bent rearward. The tail rotor driveshaft was intact. The tail rotor driveshaft damper bearing was free to rotate, and bearing housing was separated from the bearing. The linkage was intact and separated from the tailcone. The aft flex coupling was fracture at the flexplate arms, and the flexplate arms were bent rearward.
Post accident examination of the tail rotor gearbox revealed it contained blue oil and was free to rotate. The output shaft was bent and the tail rotor slider bearing and rotated. Tail rotor blade serial number 2051A was fractured at the hub center, and the leading edge exhibited crush damage.
The Division of Forensic Science, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, State of Georgia preformed the postmortem examination of the certified flight instructor on June 28, 2004 at 1500. The reported cause of death was massive blunt force trauma. The postmortem toxicology of specimens from the flight instructor was negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, drugs and alcohol.
The Division of Forensic Science, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, State of Georgia preformed the postmortem examination of the private pilot on June 29, 2004 at 1100. The reported cause of death was "massive blunt force trauma."
The wreckage of the helicopter was released to MG Aviation Incorporated after the field and post accident examination on September 1, 2004.
From Advisory Circular 61-23C (Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge), revised 1997: Chapter 9 - Spatial Disorientation and Illusions in Flight Many different illusions can be experienced in flight. Some can lead to spatial disorientation. Others can lead to landing errors. Illusions rank among the most common factors cited as contributing to fatal aircraft accidents. Various complex motions and forces and certain visual scenes encountered in flight can create illusions of motion and position. Spatial disorientation from these illusions can be prevented only by visual reference to reliable, fixed points on the ground or to flight instruments. The most overwhelming of all illusions in flight may be prevented by not making sudden, extreme head movements, particularly while making prolonged constant-rate turns under instrument flight rule conditions.