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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: ERA18FA187
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, July 08, 2018 in Williamsburg, VA
Aircraft: Robinson R44, registration: N616HS
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

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 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.

On July 8, 2018, about 1633 eastern daylight time, a Robinson R44-II, N616HS, was destroyed when it impacted a condominium building in Williamsburg, Virginia. The commercial pilot on-board the helicopter and one resident in the building were fatally injured. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which originated from Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport (JGG), Williamsburg, Virginia about 1640 and was destined for Stafford Regional Airport (RMN), Stafford, Virginia. The helicopter was privately owned and operated by the commercial pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

The pilot had flown from RMN to the JGG earlier that morning to attend a meeting at the airport. Airport personnel reported that the helicopter had been refueled, topping off both fuel tanks, prior to departure from JGG.

Review of preliminary Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control radar data show the helicopter departed JGG about 1630, and then headed north toward the accident site. The helicopter climbed to a pressure altitude of about 1,700 feet. After reaching 1,700 feet, the helicopter leveled off, and the groundspeed increased from about 60 knots to about 110 knots over the next 1.5 minutes. The helicopter then entered a right decreasing radius turn, while descending, until tracking coverage was lost. At the last recorded position, the helicopter was in the vacinity of the accident site, descending at a rate greater than 10,000 feet per minute.

Several witnesses near the accident site described the helicopter as flying low, one estimated its height at about 100 feet above the ground, as it approached the two-story condominium complex. They described it as flying relatively straight and level or slightly descending, before suddenly pitching nose down and descending into the roof of the building. One witness described the helicopter as "rocking back and forth unsteadily" just before it pitched downward. Another witness located about 100 yards south of accident site recalled the engine making a "constant sound" as it flew over his head.

The helicopter impacted a two-story 10 unit condominium building located about 3 nautical miles north of JGG. The main wreckage came to rest inside the north end of the building, with some components including a section of the tail rotor drive shaft found along the 70-foot wreckage path extending from the building on a heading of about 20° magnetic.

Examination of the wreckage revealed that all the major components of the helicopter were present at the accident site except for the tail boom, the tail rotor, and tail rotor gearbox. The vertical stabilizer and aft bulkhead and a section of the tail rotor guard were located, however fire and building collapse damage prevented access to several areas surrounding the main wreckage. Many of the components were partially or completely consumed by a post-crash fire. Remnants of the removable copilot side controls were found near their stowed position. Remnants of all the pilot side controls were present. All hydraulic controls were identified with portions of all the push-pull rods extending from the hydraulic actuators. Portions of the flight control rods were thermally damaged. All main and tail rotor flight control rod ends were secure to their attachment points at both ends, except for the tail rotor gear box connection which was not recovered. The transmission input sheave (pully) was manually rotated in both the locking and freewheeling modes, and the main rotor drive shaft rotated with the sheave, with some interference from a damaged flex coupling. A score mark on the aft face of the upper sheave was about 4 inches long in the direction of rotation. The leading edges of both main rotor blades were dented and bent in several locations and remained attached to the rotor hub. About 1 foot of each tip of both blade spars were not recovered and most of the remainder of the main rotor blades were consumed by fire. The tail rotor gearbox mounting bolts were fractured consistent with overload. The transmission continuity was confirmed from the upper sheave to the main rotor mast and to the intermediate flex coupling. The main and auxiliary fuel tanks were severely damaged. The cap on the main tank was in place, the cap on the auxiliary tank was missing. Portions of the main and auxiliary fuel tanks were consumed by post-crash fire.

The engine crankshaft was rotated freely by hand. Both oil coolers, one on each side of the engine, exhibited grinding damage in line with the starter ring gear. Thumb compression and suction were present on all cylinders, though weaker on cylinder No. 5. The cylinder head and intake pipe for cylinder No. 5 received impact damage, and debris was found in the intake. All spark plugs exhibited normal wear and coloration as compared to the Champion check-a-plug chart, the number 4 and 6 bottom spark plugs were oil-soaked. Both magnetos were impact and fire damaged and could not be tested. Borescope inspection of all cylinders did not reveal any damage or scoring marks on piston tops, cylinder walls or valves. The fuel injection servo inlet screen was free of debris. The butterfly valve was found in the full open position however the input control rod was damaged and not connected, the mixture control actuator was too damaged to determine its position. The mixture control knob in the cockpit was found in the full rich position. All six fuel injector nozzles were found unobstructed.

A review of helicopter maintenance logbooks revealed that the most recent annual inspection was performed by the helicopter manufacturer on August 24, 2017, at an airframe total time of 619 hours, as part of the 12-year inspection and overhaul maintenance recommendation. The most recent recorded maintenance was an oil change and was performed on January 26, 2018 at an airframe total time of 649 hours. The airframe total time at the time of the accident could not be determined.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records, the 85-year-old pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land, airplane multiengine land, instrument-airplane, and rotorcraft-helicopter. A review of his logbook revealed he had accumulated 5,693 total hours of flight experience, of which 1,919 hours were in rotorcraft, and of those, 545 hours were in the same make and model as the accident helicopter.