On February 18, 2005, approximately 1030 central standard time, a single-engine Bell 206L-3 helicopter, N512RA, registered to and operated by Rotorcraft Leasing Company (RLC), LLC, of Broussard, Louisiana, was substantially damaged when the helicopter partially submerged after a forced autorotation/landing into open ocean water following a reported loss of engine power during takeoff from offshore platform HIA382F, located in the Gulf of Mexico, near Cameron, Louisiana. The airline transport rated pilot and two passengers were not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed throughout the area, and a company visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan was filed for the on-demand passenger flight, which was conducted under the provisions of Title14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
In a written statement, the 14,500-hour pilot reported that as he prepared for takeoff from HIA382F, "rotor revolutions per minute (RPM) was increased to 100%, caution panel and instruments were checked, and everything appeared normal." During the initial hover over the platform, the pilot did not notice any abnormalities, and a take off was initiated into the wind. As the helicopter cleared the deck, the pilot "heard the rpm start to decrease and observed the rotor rpm passing through 90%." The pilot then lowered the collective to recover rpm and verified that the throttle was full open. The rpm appeared to stabilize momentarily, and the pilot initiated a right turn to return to the platform. The RPM decreased a second tiem, so the pilot "turned back into the wind, entered autorotation, and deployed the emergency floats in anticipation of a water landing."
According to the pilot, the seas state was "high," and upon contact with the water, the helicopter filled with water. The pilot was not able to open his door immediately, but after some delay, he was able to exit through the left front passenger door. At this time, he realized that the helicopter was inverted and partially submerged in the water. The two passengers had already exited the helicopter and were located on top of the inverted helicopter. The pilot noticed that the two forward skid mounted flotation bags were deflated and a portion of the tail boom assembly was floating on the water.
Subsequently, the pilot and passengers were rescued by a boat approximately one hour later. The helicopter remained in the water for approximately 7-8 hours prior to recovery.
On February 23, 2005, under the supervision of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, along with representatives from Rolls Royce and Bell Helicopter examined the helicopter. The tail boom was fractured at a location just aft of the intercoastal support structure, with evidence of impact damage on its left side. The aft end of the tail boom was not recovered. In the vicinity of the left rear cross tube assembly's airframe attach point, the honeycomb structure and aluminum skin material were fractured.
A fuel sample from the airframe fuel filter canister contained a yellowish-tan contaminant that had separated from the fuel in the sample. Additionally, a yellowish-tan shiny substance was found on the paper folds of the airframe fuel filter. The fuel cells were drained and boost pumps removed. Initially, the helicopter boost pumps were used to pump out the fuel from the tanks, but they stopped running during the process. Some contamination was found on the boost pump assemblies' exterior surfaces and on the bottom of the main fuel cell. Both left and right in-line fuel filters between the front and rear fuel tanks also exhibited contamination. Removal and examination of the engine the fuel nozzle assembly, revealed a collapsed screen that was covered with a "slimy substance."
On November 22, 2004, the FAA issued Airworthiness Directive (AD) 2004-24-09, effective date, January 5, 2005, for certain Rolls Royce 250-C30 series turboshaft and turboprop engines. The AD followed Rolls Royce Alert Commercial Engine Bulletin, CEB-A-73-3118, dated August 30, 2004. This AD required a one-time inspection of the fuel nozzle screen for contamination, and if contamination is found, inspection and cleaning of the entire aircraft fuel system before further flight. The AD also required fuel nozzle replacement with a newly designed fuel nozzle screen at the next fuel nozzle overhaul or by June 30, 2006, whichever occurs first.
The collapsed fuel screen within the nozzle was of the old design (the new designed screen has a support structure that in less susceptible to collapse). AD-2004-24-09 had not been completed (nor was it required to be completed, i.e., compliance by June 30, 2005) as of the accident date. Although the compliance date for the AD had not passed at the time of the accident, the operator tracking the fuel nozzle assembly part number by the vendor part number as opposed to the Rolls Royce part number. Research of the provisions within the AD revealed that some vendor part number combinations were not listed on the AD. Upon this discovery, Rolls Royce has initiated an effort to list all possible vendor part numbers on an updated CEB.
A one-time inspection of eash of the operator's 27 helicopters was accomplished following the accident. Company mechanics discovered that three fuel nozzle screens of the "old design" were collapsed and covered in a "slimy substance," and two fuel nozzle screens of the "new design" were blocked with a "slimy substance." The operator immediately had fuel samples taken from all places where the aircraft had been refueled recently, and reported that a fuel tank at a refueling facility located on offshore platform, West Cameron 544 (WC 544) tested positive for bacterial/fungal growth. The accident aircraft's main tank also tested positive but the forward tanks tested clean. Very small globules of "apple jelly" type substance was visible in the sample from the aircraft's main tank. The samples were tested using the AVL "Bug test detector kit". Further tests by the operator determine the presence of "Prist" (an anti- icing additive) from the sample taken from WC 544. The operator reported that they had discontinued the use of the anti-icing additive approximately two years ago when a competitor company discovered fuel quality problems associated with the additive. The operator reported that he discussed the issue with the manager of company providing the fuel in Cameron but he had no explanation for the presence of the additive.
At 1053, the automated weather observation system at the Lake Charles Regional Airport (LCH), located approximately 21 miles to the north, reported wind from 070 degrees at 10 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, a clear sky, temperature 55 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 33 degrees Fahrenheit, and a barometric pressure setting of 30.38 inches of Mercury.