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Accident Report Detail

Crash After Encounter with Instrument Meteorological Conditions During Takeoff from Remote Landing Site New Mexico State Police Agusta S.p.A. A-109E, N606SP

Executive Summary

On June 9, 2009, about 2135 mountain daylight time, an Agusta S.p.A. A-109E helicopter, N606SP, impacted terrain following visual flight rules flight into instrument meteorological conditions near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The commercial pilot and one passenger were fatally injured; a highway patrol officer who was acting as a spotter during the accident flight was seriously injured. The entire aircraft was substantially damaged. The helicopter was registered to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and operated by the New Mexico State Police (NMSP) on a public search and rescue mission under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 without a flight plan. The helicopter departed its home base at Santa Fe Municipal Airport, Santa Fe, New Mexico, about 1850 in visual meteorological conditions; instrument meteorological conditions prevailed when the helicopter departed the remote landing site about 2132.

The safety issues discussed in this report include the pilot's decision-making, flight and duty times and rest periods, NMSP staffing, safety management system programs and risk assessments, communications between the NMSP pilots and volunteer search and rescue organization personnel, instrument flying, and flight-following equipment.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot's decision to take off from a remote, mountainous landing site in dark (moonless) night, windy, instrument meteorological conditions. Contributing to the accident were an organizational culture that prioritized mission execution over aviation safety and the pilot's fatigue, self-induced pressure to conduct the flight, and situational stress. Also contributing to the accident were deficiencies in the NMSP aviation section's safety-related policies, including lack of a requirement for a risk assessment at any point during the mission; inadequate pilot staffing; lack of an effective fatigue management program for pilots; and inadequate procedures and equipment to ensure effective communication between airborne and ground personnel during search and rescue missions.

Accident Location: Sante Fe , NM    
Accident Date: 6/9/2009
Accident ID: CEN09PA348

Date Adopted: 5/24/2011
NTSB Number: AAR-11-04
NTIS Number: PB2011-910404