On July 2, 2009, about 2100 eastern daylight time, a Eurocopter AS 350 B2 helicopter, N53963, operated by Omniflight Helicopters Inc., was substantially damaged while landing at Loris Community Hospital Heliport (5SC5), Loris, South Carolina. The certificated commercial pilot and two clinicians were not injured. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a company flight plan was filed for the medical positioning flight conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The flight originated from Conway-Horry County Airport (HYW), Conway, South Carolina, at 2040.

According to the pilot, the purpose of the flight was to pick up a patient at 5SC5 for transport. The pilot initiated an approach to 5SC5, to the west, into the wind. As the helicopter approached the helipad, the clinicians were "call(ing)" clear of obstructions, such as trees and light poles. About 5 feet above the helipad, the helicopter shuttered and vibrated. The pilot continued the landing and performed an emergency engine shutdown.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector subsequently interviewed the pilot and clinicians. The FAA inspector stated that although all three persons had been to the heliport before, they simply forgot about several steel poles aligned adjacent to the helipad. Just prior to landing, the tailrotor struck one of the steel poles, and the helicopter came to rest on the helipad.

Two of the four steel poles were about 2 feet high and 4 inches in diameter, and the other two were about 3 feet high and 6 inches in diameter. The poles were placed along one side of the helipad along the perimeter line that separated the helipad from a road.

According to the operator's Vice President of Clinical Services, all clinicians are trained with the pilots in Air Medical Resource Management (AMRAM). Through that training, the clinicians are taught to point out obstacles and hazards to flight.

Examination of the helicopter by the FAA inspector revealed damage to the tailboom, tailrotor, tailrotor gearbox, tailrotor drive shaft, main rotor, and horizontal stabilizer.

The recorded weather at an airport approximately 15 miles northeast of the accident site, at 2058, included calm wind, clear skies, and visibility 10 miles.

The pilot had accumulated 2,587 total flight hours in rotorcraft, including 501 hours as pilot-in-command in the Eurocopter AS 350 B2 helicopters. The pilot logged 46, 19, and 2 flight hours in the previous 90, 30, and 1 days respectively.

Subsequent to the accident, the hospital removed the short steel poles adjacent to the helipad.

The FAA inspector stated that the FAA will research the crew training, ops specs, and the history of the poles being erected near the helipad.

The Eastern Region Safety Manager for Omniflight stated the following in the “Recommendation” section of the NTSB Pilot/Operator Report form:

“The conclusion of the Pilot involved and the Company Chief Pilot was that the incident could have been averted if the landing to the landing zone had been made further into the landing zone as to prevent the tail rotor from impacting any obstruction in the vicinity of the edge of the landing zone. Initial and immediate action has been to indoctrinate all pilots flying into medium to small sized landing zones / heliports to position aircraft in such a manner to ensure that all components of the aircraft are clear of all hazards on the periphery and or confines/boundaries of marked landing zones/heliports rather than attempting to place the center of the aircraft at the center of the landing zone / heliport. Corporate wide reassessment of hazards at landing zones/heliports within each regions normal operating area is underway and will be added/updated as needed and posted as part of normal preflight briefings / risk assessments.”

[ This Report was modified on December 21, 2009 ]

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