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On January 1, 2006, about 1900 central standard time, a Robinson R44 helicopter, N442DH, registered to a private individual, was destroyed by impact and a postcrash fire when it collided with trees and terrain, about 6 miles south-southwest of Grand Ridge, Florida. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed in the area at the time, and no flight plan was filed for the Title 14, CFR Part 91 ferry flight. The helicopter was destroyed by impact and the postcrash fire. The commercial pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. The flight originated about 5 minutes earlier, from a parking lot of a hotel near Grand Ridge, on Highway 69.
Witnesses reported to Jackson County Sheriff's Office that the helicopter landed in a parking lot of a hotel about 1800, and the occupants inquired at the hotel about the price of a room. After being told about the price, the occupants walked to a restaurant at a truck stop across the street from the hotel. The occupants ate at the restaurant, and then went to the helicopter. The helicopter was seen departing south from the hotel parking lot.
A witness contacted the Jackson County Sheriff's Office on January 4th, between 1000 and 1030 hours, and reported that on the day of the accident, about 1900, while driving on Highway I-10, he saw an explosion. The witness pointed out the area where he saw the explosion, and the wreckage was located.
According to one of the three owners of the helicopter, it had been in Mississippi to provide hurricane relief, and the accident pilot was tasked with ferrying the helicopter from Mississippi, to North Palm Beach County General Aviation Airport, West Palm Beach, Florida. The owner said that on the day of the accident at an unknown time, the pilot contacted him and advised the flight was north of Pensacola, Florida. The owner contacted the pilot between 1800 and 1900 hours, and the pilot said he had landed near Tallahassee, Florida, due to adverse weather, and he would call before he left there. The owner did not hear again from the pilot, and assumed he had spent the night near Tallahassee. The next day, January 2nd, he attempted to contact the pilot, but was unsuccessful. He knew the weather was bad, and believed the pilot spent the day in Tallahassee. On January 3rd, when the pilot had not contacted him, he contacted the Cross City and Tallahassee Commercial airports to see if the pilot had landed there. He also contacted Miami Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) and inquired if there had been a flight plan or weather briefing. He was advised there was no flight plan on file or a weather briefing. He remained in contact with the Miami AFSS, and was advised on January 4th, that the wreckage was located.
INJURIES TO PERSONS
The pilot and two passengers, both neighbors/friends of the pilot, were fatally injured.
DAMAGE TO AIRCRAFT
The helicopter was destroyed by impact and a postcrash fire.
The pilot held a commercial helicopter certificate. He did not have an instrument rating, or additional pilot certificates. He was reportedly employed by a construction company as a helicopter pilot, and according to his last FAA application for a flight medical dated January 31, 2005, he had acquired approximately 1200 helicopter flight hours. Family members stated that he had accrued about 1,400 helicopter flight hours at the time of the accident. No personal logbooks for the pilot were discovered during the investigation.
The helicopter was a 1994 model year Robinson R44. It was equipped with four seats, including the pilot's station. The helicopter was not certified for instrument flight, and did not have the basic instruments, such as an attitude indicator, for flight into instrument weather conditions.
The last annual inspection was completed in February 2005, at a Hobbs meter reading of 1,299 hours. The last airframe/engine logbook entry was on July 29, 2005, with a Hobbs meter reading of 1347.9 hours. No additional logbook entries were discovered or provided to the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC) during the investigation.
An Aviation Routine Weather report (METAR) from the Marianna Airport, Marianna, Florida, about 10 miles west-northwest of the accident site at 1904, about the time of the accident, reported a 300-foot overcast ceiling, with 1.75 miles visibility in mist. Thunderstorms and lightening were reported to the southwest and north.
There were no known communications during the accident flight, either received from, or transmitted to the pilot, by any air traffic control facility or any other aircraft.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The onsite investigation began on January 5, 2006, about 1625. Parties assisting the NTSB IIC were two FAA aviation safety inspectors from the Alabama Flight Standards District Office, and an investigator each from the helicopter and engine manufacturer.
The accident site was in a thick grove of approximately 60-foot tall trees, roughly 12-14 inches in diameter, about 576 feet south of the southbound lane of Highway I-10. The elevation of the principally flat terrain was about 150 feet msl. An initial impact scar was seen near the top of one damaged tree, about 40 feet above the ground, with impact marks at a descending angle on other trees along the crash path. The crash path was oriented on a magnetic heading of approximately 020 degrees, and extended for about 140 feet to the final resting point. An accident scene diagram is contained in the public docket of this report.
The cabin and fuselage section of the helicopter had sustained extensive damage/fragmentation during the impact and postcrash fire.
Examination of the engine, remaining flight controls and linkages, main rotor blades, rotor head assembly, blade grips, tail rotor blades, transmission, all drive train components, and fuselage structure, disclosed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical failures or malfunctions.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy on the pilot was conducted by the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Charles Siebert, District 14, 3737 Frankford Avenue, Panama City, Florida, 32405, on January 5, 2006. The cause of death was listed as "Multiple Blunt Trauma."
Toxicological samples were harvested and analyzed at the University of Florida laboratories, and the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Results from the University of Florida disclosed the samples tested positive for a prohibited drug in the blood and bile, Methamphetamine, 0.92 mg/L.
The CAMI results also tested positive for prohibited drugs: Amphetamine 0.136 (ug/ml, ug/g) in blood; 0.808 (ug/ml, ug/g) in liver, and Methamphetamine 0.857 (ug/ml, ug/g) in blood, and 4.298 (ug/ml, ug/g) in liver.
Toxicological samples were also taken from both passengers, and tested by the University of Florida. The samples from both passengers also tested positive for Methamphetamine.
There was a localized, postcrash fire that self extinguished.
According to a witness at the Brewton Municipal Airport, the pilot landed to refuel the helicopter at the Brewton Airport about 1500 on the day of the accident. The witness, who operated the fuel concession, said he commented to the pilot about the convective weather south of the airport, and asked the pilot what the weather was like along his proposed route. According to the witness, the pilot said he didn't care, as he could land anywhere, and wait out any bad weather.
The NTSB did not retain any parts or structure of the helicopter. It was released to the owner's agent, CTC Services, on January 18.