WPR10LA359
WPR10LA359

On July 19, 2010, at 1630 Pacific daylight time, a Bell 206/L3, N3185A, impacted terrain near a camp site following a search and rescue mission near Wells, Nevada. El Aero Services, Inc., operated the helicopter that was rented to the Elko County Sheriff’s Department, under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135. The commercial pilot received serious injuries, the three fire fighters were not injured; there were no ground injuries. The helicopter sustained substantial damage. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, and a company flight plan had been filed.

According to the Sheriff of Elko County, the flight had been dispatched to assist a rock climber that had become stranded on a cliff precipice near Angel Lake in the Humboldt National Forest.

Prior to responding to the site, the pilot coordinated with ground crews regarding location, current weather conditions, weights of the fire fighters, and their respective gear (860 pounds). Responding personnel noted that the temperature was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds in the area at the time of the accident.

Witnesses observed the helicopter lift off from the cliff face, and make a right turn. The helicopter moved very fast down the cliff face, and disappeared below the tree line before coming back into view prior to impacting the ground.

According to the pilot's written statement, he fueled the helicopter with 500 pounds of fuel and briefed the three firemen on the different type of landing possibilities they might encounter with the rescue, and their responsibilities, along with a normal passenger briefing. They departed Elko and flew direct to Angel Lake. He made the approach from the north and flew a slow clockwise circle looking for the stranded rock climber and checking the wind. About halfway up a rock face, they located the rock climber. He continued to circle the area, evaluating different landing spots to offload the firemen. The pilot reported that he found a ridge close to the hikers' location in which to land and drop off the fireman. The drop-off was a toe-in landing that the pilot and firemen had previously discussed. After the firemen exited the helicopter and gave the "thumbs up" signal for being clear of the helicopter, the pilot began his takeoff, which consisted of a lift up and roll to the right, and down the canyon to a nearby parking lot to wait/assist with the rescue. After shutting the helicopter down, the pilot walked to the base of the cliff to assist with the rescue if needed.

The pilot reported that the rescue was uneventful and two firemen accompanied the rock climber to the helicopter. The pilot and the two firemen waited on the third fireman, who was still atop a ridge line to gather the rescue gear and return to the original landing spot. Once the third fireman was ready, the pilot loaded the helicopter; one fireman was seated in the front left seat, and the second fireman was seated in the right aft seat. The third fireman was to be seated in the aft facing seats along with the gear.

The pilot reported the winds were traveling up the canyon at 5 knots, so he took off down canyon and circled the lake clockwise, making his way back to the original landing spot. Prior to landing, the pilot observed the third fireman on the opposite side of the helicopter than was previously planned for, so he had the aft seat passenger move seats.

He signaled the third fireman that he was ready for him to get into the helicopter. The pilot heard the seat belt click and then pulled pitch for takeoff. He checked the torque meter, which read 95 percent, and rolled the helicopter to the right; the same takeoff that he had done previously. The pilot stated that he felt the nose tuck further down than the last takeoff, and immediately introduced aft cyclic and straightened the nose. The descent rate increased rapidly and the nose did not respond as he expected. The pilot stated at that point he increased collective and aft cyclic, which improved their attitude, and he picked the lowest spot on the ridge to land.

The helicopter landed hard on the top of a ridge crest and the helicopter bounced back into the air. The pilot reported the ground speed to be between 5 to 10 knots, and they were about 20 feet in the air. He expected to lose the tail rotor from the first impact and was ready for a fast rotation to the right given the amount of power he had; however, it was a slow rotation to the right, and he felt that he still had some control. As the helicopter descended toward the ground, the pilot felt that it was relatively level, and as they got closer to the ground he heard the low rotor horn activate, and the helicopter settled into scrub trees. The pilot stated that they were 90 degrees to the ground and the helicopter subsequently rolled to the left. The pilot saw the front seat fireman exit the helicopter, and heard the two aft seated firemen exit via the right rear door. He realized the engine was still running, and went back inside and shut off the twist grip, and then exited through the windshield.

The pilot further reported that there were no mechanical or flight control problems encountered with the helicopter prior to or during the accident.

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