On November 21, 2006, approximately 1250 mountain standard time, a Hughes 369E helicopter, N500FU, sustained substantial damage following a collision with transmission wires and subsequent impact with terrain while maneuvering near Jensen, Utah. The helicopter was registered to and operated by Pete Martin Drilling of Vernal, Utah. The commercial pilot sustained serious injuries, while his sole passenger received fatal injuries. The search and rescue flight was being conducted in accordance with 14 CFR Part 91, and a company visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan was filed. The helicopter departed the Vernal Airport, Vernal, Utah, at 1230. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
In a written statement provided by the pilot and in a telephone interview with the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC), the pilot reported that he departed the Vernal Airport for the Jensen Bridge (the section of Highway 40 which crosses the Green River) on a search and rescue mission for a missing woman; the pilot occupied the left front seat and a local deputy sheriff occupied the right front seat. The pilot stated that after reaching the search area the deputy instructed him to begin the search mode by making left hand circular patterns. The pilot further stated, "I began to descend and slow the aircraft down at this particular time. I made approximately two 360-degree orbits to the left, when suddenly multiple strands of power lines came in contact with the aircraft. The next thing I can recall after making contact with the lines, I was trapped in the water surrounded by power lines and aircraft wreckage." The pilot stated that he never saw the transmission wires and was not aware that they were in the area. The pilot also related that there were no anomalies with the helicopter prior to the flight. (Refer to the area map of the accident site, which is appended to the factual report.)
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aviation safety inspector, who traveled to the accident site, reported that the helicopter impacted terrain at Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates 40 degrees 21.630 minutes north latitude and 109 degrees 20.185 minutes west longitude, at an elevation of 4,750 feet mean sea level, which is approximately 3,500 feet south of Highway 40. The helicopter subsequently rolled down an incline in a westerly direction over a distance of approximately 150 feet before coming to rest about 20 feet from the east bank of the Green River. The aircraft was facing west on its right side, with half of the helicopter submerged in the water. The inspector estimated that between 10 to 15 feet of wire cable had become entangled around the main rotor shaft. The inspector's assessment of the wreckage included the tail boom being separated, the left skid remaining attached to the helicopter, while the right skid was separated from the aircraft. The main rotor blades (5) were separated at their respective hubs and the tail rotor blades remained attached to the tail rotor assembly, with the exception of about 3 inches off of each tip. The cabin/cockpit bubble was cut off, the center console remained intact, and both cockpit seats remained intact, with the right seat pushed aft.
Local law enforcement personnel provided the IIC with witness statements from three witnesses who observed the accident. Witness #1 reported seeing the helicopter go overhead, turn around by the [Jensen] Bridge, and came back overhead again before clipping the power lines prior to "...parts flying off and the body of the chopper hitting the water." Witness #2 stated that he was walking south of the Jensen Bridge when the helicopter came up behind him on his right side. The witness reported, "I look[ed] up just as it got in to the power lines. The chopper looked like it exploded in the air and then land[ed] in the water." Witness #3 stated, "I was on the east side of the red wash road on a ridge on a 4-wheeler. I saw the chopper circle around a small ridge and over the river then flip over, then heard the bang."
At 1253, the weather reporting facility at the Vernal Airport, located approximately 10 nautical miles northwest of the accident site, reported wind calm, visibility 10 statute miles, sky clear, temperature 8 degrees C, dew point -2 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.22 inches of Mercury.