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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: ERA17LA332B
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, September 23, 2017 in Clearwater, FL
Aircraft: PIPER PA 28R-201, registration: N1881H
Injuries: 3 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On September 23, 2017, about 1715 eastern daylight time, a single-engine Piper PA-28R-201 airplane, N1881H, and a Robinson R22 helicopter, N44TB, were substantially damaged when they collided in mid-air over the runway at the Clearwater Air Park (CLW), Clearwater, Florida. The private rated pilot, the sole occupant onboard N1881H, received minor injuries, and the flight instructor and a pilot-rated student onboard N44TB were not injured. Both aircraft were owned and operated by Tampa Bay Aviation. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. Both flights were operated under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as personal flights, and no flight plans had been filed. Both aircraft were operating in the traffic pattern at the time of the accident.

According to the flight instructor, the purpose of the flight was a flight review of the pilot-rated student. He indicated that he had never previously flown with the student pilot, but during the flight, both were wearing headsets. The student pilot proceeded to the hover practice area and executed multiple practice maneuvers. All radio calls were made during every turn while in the airport traffic pattern. The instructor performed all radio calls at each leg of the airport traffic pattern during the first approach; while the pilot-rated student made the radio calls at each leg of the airport traffic pattern during the second takeoff, and approach to the runway. In addition, prior to every turn, they scanned in all directions for traffic. While on a final approach, the instructor noticed a fixed-wing airplane on the base leg of the airport traffic pattern for runway 16, and he announced on the common traffic advisory frequency that they were using runway 34. They heard the pilot of the fixed-wing airplane say something that was not legible and then observed the airplane veer away, flying to the west. The instructor then allowed the student to continue the approach to runway 34, which terminated with a hover, touchdown, and then liftoff. The flight returned to the crosswind leg of the airport traffic pattern where then turned onto base leg of the airport traffic pattern for runway 34. When the flight was 1 mile from the runway, the student pilot turned onto final approach to the airport traffic pattern for runway 34 and executed a steep approach. The instructor told the student to extend the flight path to the segmented circle. The helicopter came to a hover over runway 34 about 15 ft., when he heard a loud sound, and felt the helicopter being pushed forward. The helicopter then began to spin, and impacted the ground hard and came to rest upright.

According to the pilot of the airplane, he stated that between his first and second transmission he heard some heavy buzzing sound like a helicopter rotor with the words "34" barely distinguishable. The pilot did a scan for air traffic and declared being on downwind with "Clearwater traffic." The pilot quickly turned to base and decreased the engine power to descend. He stated that he did a quick scan of the airport environment, focusing on the taxiway to runway 34 and the line of trees ahead of it as well as to the back of the runway and saw nothing unusual. He was confident his calls on the radio were heard. The pilot proceeded to land; about 2 seconds prior to the impact he saw the helicopter hovering "immobile," probably 10 ft. above the runway. He recalled the tail was pointed towards the airplane and absolutely stationary. The pilot tried to avoid the helicopter, then heard a loud sound followed by the airplane inverting and sliding on its canopy. After the airplane came to a stop the pilot exited the airplane.

A review of a surveillance video showed the helicopter at a stationary hover over the threshold. Shortly after, the airplane is shown climbing out before colliding with the rear of the helicopter.

According to a pilot that was approaching CLW and was about 2 miles west of CLW, he heard the radio call from the helicopter when it was on a 1-mile final at 500 ft. As he flew over CLW he saw the accident outcome. He indicated that he was monitoring the CLW CTAF, and did not hear the pilot of the airplane announce his intentions. About 5 minutes after the accident, he called his company and diverted to a nearby airport.

Examination by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed that both the helicopter and airplane sustained substantial damage. Examination of the radio communication system in the airplane and helicopter did not reveal any anomalies.