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On November 22, 2004, about 1510 Pacific standard time, a Schweizer 269C, N45012, collided with terrain near Rialto, California, while attempting a pinnacle departure. Western Operations, Inc., was operating the helicopter under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The certified flight instructor (CFI) and one passenger were not injured; the helicopter sustained substantial damage. The local instructional flight departed Rialto Municipal Airport about 1500. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan had not been filed.
In a written statement, the pilot reported that after executing an uneventful pinnacle landing, he maneuvered the helicopter into the takeoff configuration. After departing the ground surface, he configured the helicopter into a hover about 3 feet above ground level (agl) and verified that the cockpit gauges were all displaying the appropriate indications. In an attempt to depart the area, he "began to trade altitude for airspeed" while maneuvering in a right turn, toward his planned escape route consisting of downsloping terrain. While in the turn, the rotor rpm became low and he manipulated the throttle control for full power, simultaneously lowering the collective.
The pilot further stated that despite his attempts, the rotor rpm failed to increase and the helicopter continued to descend. In an effort to cushion the impact, he raised the collective just before the skids contacted terrain. The helicopter rolled downhill, coming to rest on its left side.
During a conversation with a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, the passenger stated that the accident flight was his first time in a helicopter. He reported that after departing from the pinnacle, the pilot hovered the helicopter about 3 feet agl, and after checking the cockpit gauges, began an immediate turn to the right; the highest altitude the helicopter reached was about 10 feet agl. As the helicopter approached the downsloping terrain, it decreased in altitude and collided with terrain. He noted that the engine rotations per minute (rpm) remained constant and he could not audibly detect a change in power.
A review of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airman records files disclosed that the pilot held commercial helicopter and single engine airplane pilot certificates with an instrument airplane rating. He also held a certified flight instructor certificate in helicopters. He was issued a second-class medical certificate on May 12, 2004, without limitations. The pilot obtained his last biennial flight review on June 30, 2004, in a Schweizer 269C helicopter.
According to the pilot's written statement, he had 371.7 hours of total aircraft flight time, of which 229.3 hours were obtained in the same make and model as the accident helicopter and 147.8 of those hours logged as pilot-in-command time.
An aviation routine weather report (METAR) for Ontario, California, 13 miles away on a bearing of 220 degrees, reported that the temperature was about 54 degrees Fahrenheit with winds from 270 degrees at 3 knots.
The pilot reported that the winds at the accident site were negligible, with a temperature of about 62 degrees Fahrenheit.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
On March 16, 2005, technicians at the facilities of Textron Lycoming, located near Williamsport, Pennsylvania, examined and test ran the engine under the supervision of a Safety Board investigator. Prior to the engine test run, they visually examined the engine, and completed the following actions: removal of the oil filter and installation of a slave oil filter, removal of the oil cooler lines, removal of the starter and installation of a slave starter, and installation of two crankcase nose bolts. Following the visual examination, they mounted the engine to an engine test cell and installed all required test equipment . They ran the engine at various power settings for approximately 30 minutes according to the engine manufacturer's specifications. The manufacturer's report stated that the engine test run found no discrepancies or anomalies, and the engine was capable of producing power.
The FAA Rotorcraft Flying Handbook FAA-H-8083-21 (page 10-9) states that when making a pinnacle departure, "as the helicopter moves out of ground effect, maintain altitude and accelerate to normal climb airspeed. When normal climb speed is attained, establish a normal climb attitude. Never dive the helicopter down the slope after clearing the pinnacle."