DEN06LA096
DEN06LA096

On July 12, 2006, approximately 1515 mountain daylight time, a Bell 206L-3 single engine helicopter, N44NM, sustained substantial damage when it impacted mountainous terrain following a loss of directional control during landing near Taos, New Mexico. The commercial pilot and passenger sustained minor injuries. The NBC Channel 4 Eyewitness News (KOB-TV) helicopter was registered to MSI N44NM, L.L.C., Albuquerque, New Mexico, and operated by AeroWest Helicopters, Inc., Albuquerque, New Mexico. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan was not filed for the Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 on-demand flight. The local flight departed Taos Municipal Airport (SKX), Taos, New Mexico, approximately 1445.

According to the pilot, the purpose of the flight was to assist in an air search for a missing individual and provide aerial photo footage. The helicopter originally departed the Double Eagle II Airport, Albuquerque, New Mexico, at 1115. After about a hour search flight near the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area, they landed at SKX to refuel. The helicopter was refueled with 52 gallons (525 pounds) of Jet A fuel and departed SKX approximately 1300 toward the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area. While maneuvering at an altitude of approximately 12,500 feet mean sea level (msl), the pilot noticed a group of individuals exited a portion of the tree-covered area, and a National Guard UH-60 helicopter was staged on the ground in an open area. After a radio conversation with the National Guard pilot, the news helicopter pilot attempted to land in the open area, in order to obtain video footage of the rescue.

After circling the open area 3 times at an airspeed of 40 to 50 knots, the pilot attempted to land approximately 300 feet from the National Guard helicopter. Approximately 30 feet above ground level (agl), the pilot applied forward cyclic to increase airspeed for a run-on landing. Shortly thereafter, the helicopter began a yaw to the right. The pilot then applied full left anti-torque pedal input; however, the yaw to the right continued. Approximately 10 feet agl, the pilot reduced throttle and applied forward cyclic. Subsequently, the helicopter impacted terrain nose first, rolled to the left and came to rest on its left side. The pilot shut off the cockpit fuel switches and exited the helicopter. The pilot stated he did not complete any performance calculations prior to the flight.

According to the flight crew of the National Guard helicopter, "There was no communication to us by the [accident helicopter] pilot that he was landing behind us, nor was there any communication that he was having mechanical issues, no MAYDAY call was given." The National Guard captain stated that "I can attest to the KOB-TV helicopter flying low and below an acceptable airspeed for the conditions present that day."

The accident site was located in mountainous open terrain at an elevation of approximately 12,400 msl. The pilot reported the wind was calm and the temperature was approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Examination of the helicopter was conducted by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airworthiness inspector. No preaccident anomalies were noted with the helicopter.

At the time of the accident, the basic aircraft weight was recorded as 2,868.2 pounds. The pilot reported the helicopter contained approximately 400 pounds of fuel.

According to the FAA's Rotorcraft Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-21, Chapter 11, LTE at Altitude, "At higher altitudes, where the air is thinner, tail rotor thrust and efficiency is reduced. When operating at high altitudes and high gross weight, especially while hovering, the tail rotor thrust may not be sufficient to maintain directional control and LTE can occur. In this case, the hovering ceiling is limited by tail rotor thrust and not necessarily power available. In these conditions gross weights need to be reduced and/or operations need to be limited to lower density altitudes."

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