Aircraft Accident Report

Loss of Control Sundance Helicopters, Inc. Eurocopter AS350-B2, N37SH

Near Las Vegas, Nevada
December 7, 2011

NTSB Number: AAR-13-01
NTIS Number: PB2013-103890
Adopted: January 29, 2013
PDF

Executive Summary

On December 7, 2011, about 1630 Pacific standard time, a Sundance Helicopters, Inc., Eurocopter AS350-B2 helicopter, N37SH, operating as a "Twilight tour" sightseeing trip, crashed in mountainous terrain about 14 miles east of Las Vegas, Nevada. The pilot and four passengers were killed, and the helicopter was destroyed by impact forces and postimpact fire. The helicopter was registered to and operated by Sundance as a scheduled air tour flight under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 135. Visual meteorological conditions with good visibility and dusk light prevailed at the time of the accident, and the flight operated under visual flight rules. The helicopter originated from Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada, about 1621 with an intended route of flight to the Hoover Dam area and return to the airport. The helicopter was not equipped, and was not required to be equipped, with any on-board recording devices.

The accident occurred when the helicopter unexpectedly climbed about 600 feet, turned about 90° to the left, and then descended about 800 feet, entered a left turn, and descended at a rate of at least 2,500 feet per minute to impact. During examination of the wreckage, the main rotor fore/aft servo, one of the three hydraulic servos that provide inputs to the main rotor, was found with its flight control input rod not connected. The bolt, washer, self-locking nut, and split pin (sometimes referred to as a "cotter pin" or "cotter key") that normally secure the input rod to the main rotor fore/aft servo were not found. The investigation revealed that the hardware was improperly secured during maintenance that had been conducted the day before the accident. The nut became loose (likely because it was degraded)[1] and, without the split pin, the nut separated from the bolt, the bolt disconnected, and the input rod separated from the linkage while the helicopter was in flight, at which point the helicopter became uncontrollable and crashed.

The safety issues identified in this accident include the following:

Probable Cause

The NTSB determines that the probable cause of this accident was Sundance Helicopters' inadequate maintenance of the helicopter, including (1) the improper reuse of a degraded self-locking nut, (2) the improper or lack of installation of a split pin, and (3) inadequate postmaintenance inspections, which resulted in the in-flight separation of the servo control input rod from the fore/aft servo and rendered the helicopter uncontrollable. Contributing to the improper or lack of installation of the split pin was the mechanic's fatigue and the lack of clearly delineated maintenance task steps to follow. Contributing to the inadequate postmaintenance inspection was the inspector's fatigue and the lack of clearly delineated inspection steps to follow.

As a result of this investigation, the NTSB makes safety recommendations to the FAA, reiterates a previous recommendation to the FAA, and reclassifies a previous recommendation to the FAA.

Recommendations

New Recommendations

The National Transportation Safety Board makes the following recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration:

Establish duty-time regulations for maintenance personnel working under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 121, 135, 145, and 91 Subpart K that take into consideration factors such as start time, workload, shift changes, circadian rhythms, adequate rest time, and other factors shown by recent research, scientific evidence, and current industry experience to affect maintenance crew alertness. (A-13-01) (Supersedes Safety Recommendation A-97-71 and is classified "Open-Unacceptable Response")

Encourage operators and manufacturers to develop and implement best practices for conducting maintenance under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 135 and 91 Subpart K, including, but not limited to, the use of work cards for maintenance tasks, especially those involving safety-critical functions, that promote the recording and verification of delineated steps in the task that, if improperly completed, could lead to a loss of control. (A-13-02)

Require that personnel performing maintenance or inspections under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 121, 135, 145, and 91 Subpart K receive initial and recurrent training on human factors affecting maintenance that includes a review of the causes of human error, including fatigue, its effects on performance, and actions individuals can take to prevent the development of fatigue. (A-13-03)

Previously Issued Recommendation Reiterated in This Report

Safety Recommendation A-04-16, to the FAA, is reiterated in section 3.2.3 of this report.

Require that 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 air carriers implement comprehensive human factors programs to reduce the likelihood of human error in aviation maintenance.

Previously Issued Recommendation Reclassified in This Report

Safety Recommendation A-97-71, to the FAA, is classified "Closed-Unacceptable Action/Superseded" in section 3.2.1.2 of this report. The recommendation is superseded by Safety Recommendation A-13-01:

Review the issue of personnel fatigue in aviation maintenance; then establish duty time limitations consistent with the current state of scientific knowledge for personnel who perform maintenance on air carrier aircraft.

Notes

Throughout the report, the term "degraded" means that the nut was degraded beyond reuse specifications.

FAAST's mission is to improve the nation's aviation safety record by conveying safety principles and practices through training, outreach, and education. FAAST managers and program managers are responsible for establishing meaningful alliances and encouraging continual growth of a positive safety culture within the aviation community.