CEN12LA667
CEN12LA667

On September 30, 2012, at 0920 central daylight time, a McDonnell Douglas 369FF helicopter, N530KD, sustained substantial damage during a forced landing to a corn field near Decorah, Iowa. The airline transport rated pilot and the passenger sustained minor injuries. The helicopter was registered to and operated by Rogers Helicopters Incorporated, Fresno, California. A company visual flight rules flight plan was filed for the flight that departed Fort Dodge Regional Airport (FOD), Fort Dodge, Iowa, about 0820, and was destined for Decorah Municipal Airport (DEH), Decorah, Iowa. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the repositioning flight conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

The pilot reported that he picked up the helicopter and his passenger (an employee of the operator) on September 29, 2013, in Kearney, Nebraska, and planned to fly it to Green Bay, Wisconsin, for a power line construction job scheduled to begin on October 1, 2012. They departed Kearney, with full fuel (64 gallons/428 pounds total) and flew to Columbus, Nebraska (a 50-minute flight), where he topped off the fuel tank by adding 32 gallons of fuel. They then departed Columbus for Fort Dodge, Iowa (a 1:20 flight). In Fort Dodge, the passenger topped off the fuel tank with 48.95 gallons of fuel. That night, while the passenger stayed at a hotel, the pilot flew the helicopter to his ranch near Jefferson, Iowa, a total of 48 minutes. (The pilot said it was a 14 minute flight to his ranch and then he flew an additional 34 minutes before he landed and spent the night). The following morning, the day of the accident, the pilot flew back to Fort Dodge (a 14 minute flight) and picked up the passenger. The pilot added only 15 gallons of fuel in Fort Dodge. Since the pilot was unable to visually check the fuel quantity due to the design of the fuel system (a pilot can only verify a full tank if the tank is topped off), he referenced the fuel gauge, which indicated a total of 305-310 pounds of fuel.

The pilot and the passenger then departed for Decorah, Iowa. The pilot said the low fuel caution light illuminated about 58 minutes into the flight, which should have indicated there was at least 35 pounds of fuel remaining. The pilot elected to continue toward the airport since it was about 3 miles away. He said that about three minutes after the fuel-low warning light came on, the engine flamed out and he made an autorotation to a mature corn field. The helicopter bounced upon touch down and rolled over coming to rest on its left side.

Examination of the helicopter by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed the tail boom had separated and the main rotor and tail rotor blades were damaged. The fuel tank was not damaged and there was no smell of fuel. Approximately two drops of fuel were drained from the fuel sump and about a quarter-cup of fuel from the fuel tank.

At the request of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Investigator-in-Charge (IIC), the company that repaired the helicopter performed a more detailed examination of the fuel system and found no mechanical deficiencies that would have precluded normal operation of the fuel system and engine. However, the fuel gauge and fuel-low caution light were not calibrated correctly. When 19 pounds of fuel were placed in the fuel tank, the fuel gauge indicated 2 bar widths above the red dot on the guage (red dot is the 35 pounds of fuel mark); and, when 35 pounds of fuel were placed in the tank, the gauge indicated between the red dot and 100 pounds. The fuel-low caution light, which should come on when 35 pounds of fuel are remaining in the tank, came on at 19 pounds.

According to the operator, the fuel-low caution light was inspected as part of a continuous airworthiness inspection on March 1, 2012. From the time this inspection was completed to the time of the accident, no other maintenance was performed on the fuel quantity sensor system.

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