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On June 27, 2008, at 0341 mountain standard time, a Eurocopter AS 350 B3, N586AE, collided with level terrain during an attempted go-around near Ash Fork, Arizona. Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. (PHI), was operating the helicopter under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The certificated airline transport pilot and two medical crew members sustained serious injuries; the helicopter sustained substantial damage. The flight originated from Ernest A. Love Field Airport (PRC), Prescott, Arizona, and was en route to a traffic accident. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a company flight plan was filed.
The pilot and operator provided written statements to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC). The pilot stated that his duty shift began at 1830 on June 26. He reported that shortly after beginning his shift he completed his normal duties, which included performing a preflight check on the accident helicopter, and checking the current and forecast area weather.
At 0310 on the day of the accident, the pilot received a dispatch notification informing him that a motorcycle accident had occurred on US Highway 89, south of Ash Fork. Five minutes later he was cleared to launch to the accident, and at 0320, he departed in the helicopter with a medical crew that included a nurse and a paramedic.
The pilot reported that for the 20-minute flight he was wearing his Night Vision Goggles, and that the weather en route was clear skies with unrestricted visibility. He stated that he had an, "average to good night vision picture."
As the pilot passed the town of Chino, Arizona, he observed the emergency vehicles' lights to the north. The pilot radio contacted the incident commander, and was informed that he was to land about 1.5 miles north of the accident site.
The pilot performed an orbit around the accident site and determined that it would be safe for him to land there directly. He once again contacted the incident commander, and requested to land at the accident site. The incident commander instructed the pilot to continue north to the LZ.
The pilot then proceeded to fly the helicopter to the LZ, which was on a road adjoining highway 89. He flew over the LZ and observed that the placement of the incident commander's vehicle would cause him to make an approach that he determined was steeper than normal. He elected to approach the landing zone from the west. This route of flight took him over a sparsely vegetated dirt field, followed by a gravel road, and then a paved road.
The pilot reported beginning the approach portion of the flight about 300 feet laterally from the LZ at an altitude of between 150 and 200 feet agl. He stated that halfway through the approach he was surprised by the amount of dust being created by the rotor wash, and he commented to the flight crew, "I don't like this very much." He then observed dust rising about halfway up his windshield, and he initiated a go-around. He reported increasing the collective and referencing the attitude indicator to maintain a level and, "slightly" nose low attitude. He expressed concern that the dust was now filling about 3/4 of the windshield, but he reported being confident that he had initiated a climb.
Shortly thereafter, the helicopter impacted the ground. During the impact sequence the helicopter rolled on its right, and the main rotor, tail rotor, and engine separated from the fuselage.
The pilot stated that the helicopter and engine had no mechanical failures or malfunctions during the flight.
The pilot, age 61, held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane multiengine land and helicopter. In addition, he held commercial privileges for airplane single engine land and sea, and instrument helicopter.
The pilot held a second-class medical certificate issued in February 2008, with the limitation that he must wear corrective lenses.
The pilot reported that he had a total flight time of 9,636 hours. He logged 25 hours in the accident helicopter make and model over the last 90 days, and 7 hours in the last 30 days, which included 5 hours under night conditions. He reported 136 total flight hours in this make and model, and 3,636 total flight hours in helicopters.
Records from the operator revealed that at the time of the accident the pilot had met the currency requirements outlined in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved PHI Helicopter Night Vision Goggle Operations Specifications (HNVGO).
In a telephone interview with the Safety Board IIC, the pilot reported that he had amassed about 500 hours of total flight experience using Night Vision Goggles during service as a helicopter pilot in the Army National Guard. He further stated that he began employment with PHI in February 2007, and that this was his first position as a pilot in Emergency Medical Services.
The helicopter was a Eurocopter AS 350 B3, serial number 3725, manufactured in 2003. The helicopter was powered by Turbomeca Arriel 2B engine, serial number 22408.
The operator maintained the helicopter in accordance with an FAA approved aircraft inspection program (AAIP). The operator reported that the helicopter had a total airframe time of 1,521 hours at the last AAIP Inspection, which occurred 35 flight hours prior to the accident.
The helicopter was not certified for instrument flight rules (IFR). The helicopter was equipped with a radar altimeter.
The closest aviation weather observation station was located at PRC, which was 38 miles south of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 5,045 feet mean sea level (msl). An aviation routine weather report (METAR) for PRC was issued at 0353 MST. It stated: winds from 170 degrees at 7 knots; visibility 10 miles; skies clear; temperature 16 degrees Celsius; dew point 5 degrees Celsius; altimeter 30.10 inches of mercury.