WPR09LA125
WPR09LA125

On February 22, 2009, about 1955 mountain standard time, a Eurocopter AS 350 B2 helicopter, N353P, was substantially damaged during a hard landing near Cave Creek, Arizona. The helicopter was registered to and operated by PHI Inc. of Lafayette, Louisiana, under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The commercial pilot and two medical crew members were not injured. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a company visual flight rules flight plan was filed for the repositioning flight. The local flight originated from the Phoenix Deer Valley Airport, Phoenix, Arizona, at 1945 with an intended destination of Cave Creek.

In a written statement, the pilot reported that he was dispatched to the site of a traffic accident to provide patient transport. Upon arriving to the dispatched area, he obtained the landing area information from the crew of a fire engine located adjacent to the landing zone. The fire engine crew reported to the pilot that there were power lines on the north and west sides, a flag pole on the eastern side, and trees to the immediate south of the 150-foot by 200-foot dirt parking lot. The pilot then performed an aerial reconnaissance of the parking lot to visually identify the obstacles and asked the fire engine crew if the landing area had been watered down. The fire engine crew told the pilot that it was not wetted down and "looked damp." The pilot proceeded to initiate his approach to the dirt parking lot from the south.

While descending through about 30 feet above ground level (agl), the pilot noticed dust starting to circulate around the immediate area of the helicopter. As the descent continued through about 15 to 20 feet agl, the pilot stated he experienced a "brownout" and told the crew they were "going to the ground." The pilot then reduced power "to get down quicker and lower [the] dust volume." As the helicopter descended through about 10 feet agl, the pilot stated he lost visual reference through his night vision goggles (NVG) due to the lights from the adjacent fire trucks. The pilot attempted to look outside through the windows underneath his NVGs as he slightly adjusted the collective. Subsequently, the helicopter landed hard on the right landing skid followed by the left and came to rest upright adjacent to an office building and fire truck.

In a written statement, the flight nurse, who was seated behind the pilot, reported that prior to the approach to landing she was instructed by the pilot to "watch for dust" and that they "will go to the ground if need be." As the approach to landing continued, she could see the ground outside her right window and dust "starting to appear and surround the aircraft." The flight nurse stated that the helicopter was drifting forward and to the left within close proximity to a building structure and fire engine, before hitting the ground with one skid followed by the other.

Examination of the helicopter by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed that the tail boom and fuselage were structurally damaged.

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