NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
The certificated commercial helicopter pilot, with five passengers aboard, was attempting to return to the Juneau International Airport after completion of an ice field sightseeing tour flight. During a gradual descent, over a large, featureless, and snow-covered ice field, a localized snow shower momentarily reduced his forward visibility. The pilot reported he slowed the helicopter to about 70 knots and attempted to use a mountain range on the left side of the helicopter for visual reference. He said: 'The visibility got to a point where I was unable to discern any topographic features, only a dark shape on the horizon.' He added that 'flat light conditions' contributed to his inability to recognize any topographical features on the ice surface. The helicopter continued to descend, struck the snow-covered ice field, slid about 150 feet, and nosed over. The pilot reported that there were no preaccident mechanical anomalies with the helicopter. The helicopter was not equipped with a radar altimeter, and the pilot did not hold an instrument rating. The pilot received no emergency instrument training from the company, nor did the company require him to demonstrate the ability to maneuver the helicopter solely by reference to the installed flight instruments. FAA Order 8400.10 requires Principal Operations Inspectors, and approved company check airmen, to have pilots demonstrate their ability to control a helicopter solely by reference to flight instruments during 14 CFR 135.293 competency checks for VFR-only helicopter operations. The operator's FAA-approved training manual did not require training or competency checks of the pilot's ability to maneuver the helicopter solely by reference to flight instruments.