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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: CEN16FA215
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, June 12, 2016 in Jonesboro, AR
Probable Cause Approval Date: 04/09/2018
Aircraft: ROBINSON HELICOPTER COMPANY R44 II, registration: N789MR
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

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.

During the 2 to 3 hours before the accident, a witness saw the commercial pilot drinking from a cup that smelled like alcohol and noticed that he refilled the cup two or three times. He then heard the pilot say that he was going to put on an airshow. The helicopter lifted off at a 45° angle backward and upward, reach an altitude of about 125 ft, and then descend out of sight behind hangars. A postaccident examination revealed that the helicopter's tail contacted the ground behind the hangars resulting in separation of both tail rotor blades. The helicopter then rose above the hangars and began to spin. The helicopter descended again, impacted terrain, and burst into flames. The examination of the wreckage did not reveal evidence of any preimpact anomalies that would have precluded normal operation of the helicopter. Toxicology testing detected diphenhydramine, a sedating antihistamine, and elevated levels of ethanol in the pilot's blood and tissues. The pilot was most likely impaired by the combination of ingested alcohol and the use of diphenhydramine, both of which are central nervous system depressants. The impairing effects of the combination of these substances most likely contributed to his decision to fly after drinking alcohol as well as his inability to maintain control of the helicopter.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The pilot's failure to maintain helicopter control during takeoff. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's impairment due to his combined use of alcohol and diphenhydramine, which led to his improper decision to fly after drinking alcohol and degraded his ability to maintain control of the helicopter.