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On August 21, 2011, at 1335 eastern daylight time, an attempted aerial transfer of an individual (wing walker) from a Boeing A75N1 Stearman airplane, N49739, to a Hughes 269C helicopter, N7505B, resulted in a fatal injury to the wing walker during an air show performance at Selfridge Air National Guard Base (MTC), Mt. Clemens, Michigan. Neither aircraft was damaged during the accident; nor was either pilot injured. Both aircraft landed normally after the accident. The flight was being conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 and a Certificate of Waiver issued for the air show. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which was not operated on a flight plan. The local flight originated from RMY about 1315.
The airplane pilot stated that the wing walker fell during their third pass along the air show line. He reported that the wing walker was to wait for a cue from the helicopter pilot when both aircraft were in position for the transfer. He stated that the wing walker jumped to reach the skid on the helicopter before it was in position, letting go of the handle on the airplane. The wing walker was unable to regain a hold of the handle on the airplane and fell. The airplane pilot noted that the wing walker did not normally let go of the handle on the airplane until his arm was wrapped around the skid on the helicopter.
The helicopter pilot reported that the aerial transfer was planned to occur on the third pass along the air show line. The initial passes went according to their plan. However, on the third pass, the wing walker attempted to grab the helicopter skid prior to the briefed transfer point. The helicopter pilot stated that the wing walker released his hold on the airplane handle and lunged with both hands for the helicopter skid before the aircraft were in position. He reported that the wing walker attempted to go back to the airplane, but was unable to grab on to anything. The wing walker subsequently fell approximately 150 feet to the ground.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors assigned to the air show reported that they were near the air boss control trailer located northeast of the designated aerobatic box at the time of the accident. They noted the aircraft appeared to have been within the aerobatic box boundaries as they flew southbound past their position. They stated that the aircraft were just north of air show center when the wing walker fell from the airplane. The wing walker impacted a grass area about 1,100 feet east of runway 1-19 and 300 feet north of the perpendicular access road.
The wing walker was transported from the scene and subsequently pronounced dead at a local hospital. Both aircraft involved in the aerial transfer landed safely after the accident.
According to FAA records, the wing walker did not hold a pilot certificate. The FAA does not require specific certification or training related to wing walker/aerial transfer performers. The wing walker had performed with the airplane pilot for about 10 years, and had reportedly performed a similar act with other pilots prior to that. He had been a member of the International Council of Air Shows since 2008.
The airplane pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with single-engine land and sea airplane, multi-engine land and sea airplane, and helicopter ratings. He also held a flight instructor certificate with single and multi-engine airplane, instrument airplane, and helicopter ratings. He reported 41,000 hours total flight time, with approximately 10,000 hours in a Boeing A75N1 Stearman airplane. His most recent flight review was completed on July 23, 2011. He was issued a first class airman medical certificate with a limitation for corrective lenses on May 4, 2011.
The helicopter pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with single-engine land and sea airplane, multi-engine land and sea airplane, and helicopter ratings. He also held a flight instructor certificate with single and multi-engine airplane, instrument airplane, helicopter, and instrument helicopter ratings. He reported 17,815 hours total flight time, with approximately 1,500 hours in a Hughes 269C helicopter. His most recent flight review was completed on April 7, 2011. He was issued a second class airman medical certificate with a limitation for corrective lenses on March 17, 2011.
Both pilots held current Statement of Aerobatic Competency (SAC) authorizations with aerial transfer endorsements. The airplane pilot's authorization also included a wing walking endorsement.
The airplane involved in the accident, N47739, was a 1943 Boeing A75N1, serial number 75-4462. It was World War II era bi-wing training airplane, with an open cockpit, a two-place tandem seating configuration, and a conventional (tail wheel) landing gear arrangement. The single engine airplane was powered by a 225-horsepower Continental Motors R-670-6N radial engine, serial number 181087.
The airplane had accumulated about 8,390 hours at the time of the most recent annual inspection. That inspection was completed on June 15, 2011. About 37 hours had accumulated on the airplane since that inspection. The engine had about 1,030 hours total time, with approximately 330 hours since overhaul.
The accident airplane was equipped with two hand holds along the trailing edge of the upper wing in the area of the forward cockpit. An additional hand hold was located about mid-chord of the upper wing, approximately on the airplane centerline.
The helicopter involved in the accident, N7507B, was a Hughes 269C, serial number S1205. It was a two-place aircraft, which incorporated a conventional landing skid arrangement. The helicopter was powered by a 190-horsepower Lycoming HIO-360-D1A engine, serial number L-24382-51A.
The helicopter had accumulated about 5,782 hours at the time of the accident. The most recent annual inspection was completed on December 20, 2010. About 13 hours had accumulated on the helicopter since that inspection. The engine had about 7,657 hours total time, with approximately 131 hours since overhaul.
The accident helicopter was equipped with padding applied to the forward portion of the left landing skid. This was the area of the helicopter used by the wing walker as observed in the video segments reviewed by the NTSB.
At 1255, the weather conditions recorded at MTC were: wind from 270 degrees at 7 knots; visibility 7 miles; few clouds at 2,000 feet above ground level (agl), scattered clouds at 9,000 feet agl, broken clouds at 12,000 feet agl; temperature 24 degrees Celsius; dew point 16 degrees Celsius; altimeter 29.88 inches of mercury.
At 1355, the weather conditions recorded at MTC were: wind from 270 degrees at 13 knots; visibility 7 miles; scattered clouds at 4,500 feet agl, scattered clouds at 12,000 feet agl, broken clouds at 18,000 feet agl; temperature 25 degrees Celsius; dew point 13 degrees Celsius; altimeter 29.87 inches of mercury.
Selfridge Air National Guard Base was served by a single north-south runway. Runway 1-19 was 9,000 feet by 150 feet, with a 1,000-foot overrun area at both ends. Air show center was located on the runway centerline, approximately 800 feet north of taxiway H. The audience fence line was located 1,650 feet east of the runway.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wing walker impacted a grass area about 1,100 feet east of runway 1-19 and 300 feet north of the perpendicular access road. The accident occurred within the designated air show aerobatic performance area. No ground personnel or spectators were injured as a result of the accident.
Both aircraft involved in the aerial transfer landed safely after the accident. Neither aircraft was damaged. The pilots stated that there no failures or malfunctions with either aircraft during the accident flight.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy of the wing walker was performed at the Macomb County, Michigan, Medical Examiner's Office on August 22, 2011. FAA toxicological testing was negative for all substances in the screening profile.
The Selfridge 2011 air show was held on Saturday, August 20th, and Sunday, August 21st. According to the air show website, performances included military and civilian aircraft, in addition to the aerial transfer performance. No anomalies or difficulties regarding the August 20th air show performances were reported to the NTSB.
The airplane pilot performed as a part of the Untied Team: Mohr & Buis, which conducted non-aerobatic formation flight, wing walking, and aerial transfer maneuvers. He reported that he has been performing in air shows for the past 36 years, and performed in an aerial transfer act for the past 18 years. He estimated that he performed at 5 – 10 venues each season, with about 3 shows at each venue. He noted that the aerial transfer act did not vary at all from performance to performance. The airplane pilot also performed a solo aerobatic act under the name of Mohr Barnstorming.
The helicopter pilot performed a solo helicopter air show routine under the name Otto the Helicopter, in addition to the aerial transfer routine as part of the Untied Team. The helicopter pilot reported that he had performed this act with the wing walker many times over the previous 6 years.