On September 7, 2010, about 0700 Pacific daylight time, an Aerospatiale SA315B, N17285, experienced a loss of engine power shortly after takeoff, and made a hard landing near Winters, California. The helicopter was operated by Precision Helicopter under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 137 as an agriculture operation. The pilot, the sole occupant, was not injured. The helicopter sustained substantial damage following the hard landing; the tail boom was cut off. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local area crop dusting operation, and no flight plan had been filed. The flight was departing from a private helipad at the time of the accident.

In an interview with a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, the pilot stated that the hopper was full of a water-based fertilizer. He thought there was a possible issue with the fuel pump, and also stated that there was a low fuel situation. Shortly after liftoff, about 200 feet above the ground, the engine decelerated and went to an idle power setting. The pilot performed an autorotation, but due to the height above the ground, the helicopter landed hard. During the hard landing, the landing gear skids spread, and the main rotor blades struck the tail boom; separating the tail boom.

The pilot was interviewed by an airworthiness inspector from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who responded to the accident site. The pilot had started flying the accident helicopter at 0530 the morning of the accident. At that time the helicopter was fueled with 30 gallons of fuel, making the total a little less than 90 gallons of fuel. The fuel tank was sumped to check for water with none identified.

The fuel pump and fuel governor were removed and sent to Turbomeca in France, and were examined under the supervision of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (Bureau d’Enquêtes et d ’Analysis - BEA) of France. Both units were placed on a test bench for an operational check. Both the fuel pump and governor performed within normal parameters. Further examination exhibited non-metallic particles within the filter; however, their presence was not believed to be of concern. An internal examination of both units revealed no further anomalies.

An examination of the remaining engine and airframe systems revealed no mechanical failures or malfunctions.

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