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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: WPR09CA470
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, September 27, 2009 in Mt Charleston, NV
Probable Cause Approval Date: 12/29/2009
Aircraft: ROBINSON HELICOPTER COMPANY R44 II, registration: N29LE
Injuries: 1 Minor, 2 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot stated that he was orbiting at 50 knots about 100 feet above the 11,800-foot mean sea level (msl) mountain peak. As he flew the helicopter out of the leeward side of the peak, he encountered a downdraft. He maneuvered the helicopter toward a wide open valley that descended about 5,000 feet below. The downdraft pushed the helicopter into the face of the mountain, despite the pilot's application of full collective and descending flight into the valley. The helicopter impacted the mountain slope, caught fire, and tumbled. The pilot and his two passengers egressed the burning helicopter with minor injuries. The pilot hiked to the peak, and called for rescue using a cell phone. The calculated density altitude for the conditions was 13,918 feet. The published maximum operating density altitude for the helicopter was 14,000 feet. The pilot stated that the helicopter had no mechanical failures or malfunctions during the flight.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The pilot's failure to maintain aircraft control and terrain clearance while maneuvering at a low altitude above high terrain. Contributing to the accident was a downdraft and high density altitude.