NTSB Preliminary Report – 29-Oct-11 N165EH Eurocopter AS350B2

NTSB Preliminary Report – 29-Oct-11 N165EH Eurocopter AS350B2

7-Nov-2011 Source: NTSB

This is the text from the Preliminary Report.  By its very nature, the details are subject to change and should not be relied upon. The Final Report for this incident will be issued in due course:-

On October 29, 2011, about 2009 Alaska daylight time (ADT), a Eurocopter AS350-B2 helicopter, N165EH, sustained substantial damage during a collision with tundra-covered terrain about 6 miles southwest of Iliamna, Alaska. The pilot, the only occupant, died at the scene. The helicopter was operated by ERA Helicopters LLC, Anchorage, Alaska, as a 14 CFR Part 135 visual flight rules (VFR) on-demand charter flight when the accident occurred. Dark night, visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the Iliamna Airport. The flight originated in Nome, Alaska, about 1343, en route to Iliamna, with fuel stops at Unalakleet and Bethel, Alaska. Company flight following procedures were in effect.

During an interview with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC), on October 30, the operator’s general manager reported that the accident helicopter was under contract to Fugro Airborne Surveys to support an aerial seismic survey project near Nome. He said that the survey crew had completed their survey, and the two survey crew members returned to Anchorage on October 25. The pilot planed to rendezvous with the crew in Anchorage, to remove the helicopter’s specialized survey equipment. However, continuous poor weather conditions delayed the pilot’s departure from Nome until the afternoon of October 29.

The accident helicopter was equipped with a Sky Connect onboard satellite tracking system, which provides flight dispatchers with real-time position reports about every minute, as well as providing satellite phone communication with the pilot. The operator provided the NTSB with archived Sky Connect flight track data, which shows that after refueling in Bethel, the helicopter departed about 1753 en route to Iliamna. As the flight progressed along a westerly heading toward Iliamna, and eventually along the northern shore of Iliamna Lake, the Sky Connect system signal was lost at 2008, about 8 miles southwest of Iliamna.

When the helicopter failed to arrive in Iliamna, company personnel initiated a telephone and satellite phone search to see if the helicopter had diverted to another village. Unable to locate the helicopter, company management personnel contacted the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Anchorage, to report the missing helicopter.

Rescue personnel aboard an Air National Guard C-130 airplane, aided by high intensity luminescent flares, searched the area throughout the night, but were unable to locate the helicopter. No emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal was detected.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an alert notice (ALNOT) on October 30, at 0615 Alaska daylight time.

The following morning, the crew of a company helicopter discovered the fragmented wreckage about 6 miles southwest of Iliamna, in an area of marshy, tundra-covered terrain.

The closest weather reporting facility was the Iliamna Airport, 6 miles northeast of the accident site. About 11 minutes before the accident, at 1953, an Aviation Routine Weather Report (METAR) was reporting, in part: Wind, 280 degrees (true) at 6 knots; visibility, 5 statute miles with light snow; clouds and sky condition, 3,100 feet overcast; temperature, 36 degrees F; dew point, 27 degrees F; altimeter, 29.28 inches Hg.

At 2020, about 11 minutes after the accident, a special weather observation at the Iliamna Airport was reporting, in part: Wind, 300 degrees at 9 knots, visibility, 1.5 statute miles; clouds and sky condition, 2000 feet broken, 3,100 feet overcast; temperature, 34 degrees F; dew point, 27 degrees F; altimeter, 29.31 inHg.

During telephone conversations with an NTSB investigator on October 31, the fuel vendors in Unalakleet and Bethel consistently noted that the pilot seemed rushed, and both reported him mentioning that he was trying to get to Iliamna before dark.

Sunset on the day of the accident was 1833; the end of civil twilight was 1917. Updated on Nov 4 2011 2:32PM

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