LAX08FA233
LAX08FA233

On July 19, 2008, about 1540 mountain daylight time (MDT), a Hughes 369D, N400BE, impacted terrain near Carbon County Airport (PUC), Price, Utah. BBP Air, LLC, was operating the helicopter under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The private pilot and two passengers were killed; the helicopter was destroyed by impact forces and post-crash fire. The cross-country personal flight departed Carbon County Airport about 1539, with a planned destination of Spanish Fork, Utah. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed.

According to witnesses, the accident pilot and passengers had completed a fishing trip in the local area with another group who were in a second helicopter. Both helicopters landed at PUC.

The accident pilot refueled and offloaded an 11-year-old child. He then picked up an adult male and his baggage. Witnesses reported that during the refueling stop the accident pilot had a discussion with the second helicopter’s pilot that it would be harder to takeoff from the ramp area rather than the grass area they had just departed from.

After the helicopter was refueled, a witness observed the helicopter take off toward the south and then turn towards the northwest. The helicopter was last seen descending slightly as it left the airport boundary. No identified witnesses observed the impact sequence. However, witnesses near the accident site reported seeing a fireball shortly after the helicopter’s departure from PUC.

Witnesses at the airport reported that at the time of the accident, winds were strong, and out of the south.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed that the 59-year-old pilot held a second-class aviation medical certificate issued on December 11, 2007. He held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and rotorcraft-helicopter. His pilot certificate was issued on the basis of a current New Zealand pilot license.

Review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed that the pilot was issued a private pilot certificate on February 16, 1989, and was reissued a private pilot certificate on October 13, 2006. The documentation gave no reason for the reissuance.

Personal flight records were not located for the pilot. The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) obtained the aeronautical experience listed in this report from a review of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airmen medical records on file in the Airman and Medical Records Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The pilot reported on his medical application, dated December 11, 2007, that he had a total of 10,000+ flight hours with 150 flight hours logged in the last 6 months.

The pilot reported on his medical applications for the years of 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2006 that he had a total time of 1,500+ flight hours with 0, 100, 0, 0, 20, and 50 flight hours, respectively, logged in the last 6 months. In 2002 and 2005, the pilot reported he had 1,000 flight hours total time with 0 and 100 flight hours, respectively, in the last 6 months.

On September 12, 1999, the pilot underwent an FAA required examination flight. The pilot reported on an FAA Form 8710-1 that his flight time was 1,673 hours total time in single-engine aircraft and 371 hours total time in rotorcraft.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The accident helicopter was a Hughes 369D, serial number 470115D. Review of the helicopter’s logbooks revealed that the helicopter had a total airframe time of 4,147.7 flight hours at the last 100-hour/annual inspection, which was completed on July 1, 2007. The Hobbs hour meter read 891.9 hours at the last inspection.

The logbooks contained three subsequent entries. On December 5, 2007, the helicopter battery was replaced. On May 6, 2008, the following services were performed: bearing lubrication; replacement of pitch control assembly; and replaced droop stop rollers. On July 9, 2008, a Diamond J Turbine Output Temperature gauge was installed. At that time, a power check was performed and the results were found to be within limits.

The helicopter was equipped with an Allison 250-C20B turbine engine, rated at 420-shaft horsepower. The engine logbooks contained no entries for a current 100- or 300-hour inspection. Logbook entries indicated that the annual inspection was performed on July 1, 2007, with 81.5 flight hours since major overhaul. Total time on July 1, 2007, was reported as 4,388.6 flight hours.

Fueling records at PUC established that the helicopter was last fueled on July 19 with the addition of 20 gallons of Jet-A aviation fuel.

The exact weight of the helicopter at the time of the accident could not be determined. However, based on pilot records, fueling records, and helicopter weight and balance records, an estimated weight of the helicopter was calculated to be approximately 2,823 pounds. The helicopter’s certified gross weight is 3,000 pounds.

Witnesses stated that the helicopter was loaded with camping gear and luggage in the right rear seat. The exact weight of this equipment is unknown and was not included in the weight calculations.

According to the manufacturer’s representative, the helicopter's hover performance in ground effect (HIGE), with the above calculated weight and balance information and weather conditions reported at the time of the accident, the maximum operational gross weight (HIGE) would be 2,760 pounds. The calculated gross weight, at 2,823 pounds, is 63 pounds over the HIGE hover ceiling. The hover performance out of ground effect (HOGE), with the above referenced conditions, the maximum operational gross weight (HOGE) would be 2,600 pounds. The calculated gross weight, at 2,823 pounds, is 223 pounds over the HOGE hover ceiling. The manufacturer’s representative concluded that the helicopter was being operated above the maximum operational weight capability for both HIGE and HOGE hover.

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

The closest official weather observation station was Carbon County Airport, which was .7 nautical miles (nm) east of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 5,957 feet mean sea level (msl). An automated observation report for PUC was issued at 1553 MDT. It reported, in part,: winds variable at 10 knots; visibility 10 miles; skies clear; temperature 34/93 degrees Celsius/Fahrenheit; dew point 1/34 degrees Celsius/ Fahrenheit; and altimeter 30.05 inches of mercury.

Based on this information, the calculated density altitude was 9,330 feet mean sea level (msl), and the pressure altitude was 5,827 feet msl.

AIRPORT INFORMATION

The Airport/Facility Directory, Southwest Pacific U. S., indicated that Carbon County Airport has an Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS), which broadcasts on frequency 132.425.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The Safety Board IIC traveled to the accident site and examined the helicopter wreckage on July 20, 2008.

All of the helicopter's major components were found at the main wreckage site. A path of wreckage debris, from an area of ground scars to the wreckage point of rest, was on a magnetic heading of 310 degrees.

The helicopter impacted flat, level, open desert terrain, with soft sand and sage brush. The elevation at the accident site was approximately 5,827 feet msl, which was about 130 feet lower than the departure airport elevation. The helicopter wreckage was heavily damaged in the post-impact fire. The first identified point of contact (FIPC) was a shallow impact scar about 1 foot wide, 8 inches deep, and 10 feet long. The main wreckage came to rest about 60 feet northwest of the FIPC. The wreckage debris field was 135 feet long from south to north and 112 feet in width. The vegetation in the debris field was mostly thermally consumed.

The helicopter skids, which were broken into numerous pieces, were scattered between the FIPC and the main wreckage. The rotor mast, transmission, engine, and rotors came to rest inverted, along with the instrument panel, the pedal assemblies, and the seat remains.

Separated pieces of the fuselage were found in close proximity to the FIPC and scattered throughout the crash site. The final fuselage position was approximately 68 feet from the FIPC. The upper aft fuselage, with the attached forward portion of the tail boom, had separated from the main fuselage but remained in close proximity. The empennage, consisting of the vertical and horizontal stabilizer and the tail rotor system, were still attached. This section of the tail boom had separated from the rest and was located some distance from the wreckage, but it was still aligned with the fuselage.

The main transmission was located north of the FIPC. All five main rotor blades were found at or near the main transmission. Two of the five blades sustained heavy thermal damage. The other three blades exhibited bending along the spanwise axis.

The tail boom was located north of the main transmission. The mid section of the tail boom was partially burned and lay about 15 feet northwest of the engine. The tail lay about 20 feet further.

The engine was located at the north end of the debris field entangled in airframe sheet metal. Initial inspection of the engine on scene revealed heavy fire and impact damage. When the engine was separated from the airframe, the primary impact damage appeared to be on the underside of the outer combustion case.

Due to extensive impact damage and fire damage, continuity of the flight control system could not be established.

There were no pre-accident mechanical anomalies discovered during the IIC's on-scene wreckage examination.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

The State of Utah, Department of Health, Office of the Medical Examiner, completed an autopsy on the pilot. Analysis of the specimens contained no findings for volatiles and tested drugs. Carbon monoxide was detected in the blood, with 5.1 percent saturation. A test for cyanide was not performed. The report concluded that the pilot’s cause of death was a result of massive blunt force injuries.

WRECKAGE EXAMINATION

During the engine and engine component examination and teardown, no evidence of preimpact anomalies that would have precluded normal engine operation was noted.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

According to the FAA's Rotorcraft Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-21, Chapter 11, Recovery from Low Rotor RPM "Stall "Under certain conditions of high weight, high temperature, or high density altitude, you could get into a situation where the r.p.m. is low even though you are using maximum throttle. This is usually the result of the main rotor blades having an angle of attack that has created so much drag that engine power is not sufficient to maintain or attain normal operating r.p.m."

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