On May 30, 2009, about 1200 central daylight time, a Bell 47G-2 helicopter, N4823, sustained substantial damage after experiencing a fire during refueling operations at a remote field location near Kyle, Texas. The helicopter was being operated by Hardtime Helicopters, Inc., D’Hanis, Texas, as a visual flight rules (VFR) agricultural application flight, operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 137. The pilot, who was the only person onboard, sustained serious injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed. The local flight was originating at the time of the accident.

According to written statements from the operator, the pilot, and the ground crewmember, the pilot was belted in the left pilot seat with the helicopter’s engine and rotor system operating at ground idle. The removable cockpit doors were not installed. The ground crewmember was attempting to “hot refuel” the helicopter using a 35 foot long refueling hose attached to a 100 gallon fuel tank on a pickup truck which was parked next to the helicopter. The ground crewmember was standing on the forward cross tube of the helicopter with the refueling hose nozzle inserted in the helicopter’s left fuel tank when he noticed that fuel was not flowing from the nozzle. The ground crewmember removed the nozzle from the fuel tank and placed it on the operating helicopter’s chemical tank. The ground crewmember then dismounted from the helicopter and went to a kinked portion of the refueling hose. As he straightened the kinked hose, the nozzle immediately began spraying gasoline on the engine and the pilot before subsequently igniting. The fuel spray from the nozzle continued for several seconds and then stopped. The pilot exited the helicopter unassisted and extinguished the flames by slapping his body and arms with his hands. The ground crewmember assisted by pouring water on the injured pilot and then called 9-1-1 emergency.

The pilot reported that there was no fire extinguisher in the helicopter and he was not aware of a fire extinguisher in the truck or in the chemical trailer attached to the truck. No attempts were made to extinguish the fire on the helicopter until emergency response firefighters arrived on-scene. Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular number 00-34A, Aircraft Ground Handling and Servicing, paragraph 9, g, (5), recommends that “Fuel-dispensing vehicles…..should be equipped with appropriate fire extinguishers”. However, federal aviation regulations do not require fire extinguishers to be installed on agricultural aircraft or on fuel-dispensing vehicles.

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