Inappropriate control inputs led to January 2013 in-flight breakup of R44

Inappropriate control inputs led to January 2013 in-flight breakup of R44

7-Jul-2014 Source: TSB

In its investigation report (A13W0009) released today, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) determined that a Robinson R44 helicopter broke up in flight over Fox Creek, Alberta on 27 January 2013 due to inappropriate control inputs that caused the main rotor blade to make contact with the fuselage.

The Gemini Helicopters Robinson R44 was being used to monitor well sites southwest of Fox Creek, Alberta for a local oil company. After flying to several well sites, the helicopter made an unauthorized flight to a roadside security gate, picked up a passenger, flew to a compressor site and then to a remote cabin. Approximately 50 minutes later, the helicopter departed the cabin and flew back to the security gate to drop off the passenger. Shortly afterwards, the helicopter departed and was observed to be flying erratically during departure. It broke up in flight over a wooded area 5 minutes later, fatally injuring the pilot.

The investigation found that the pilot was flying under the influence of alcohol and made control inputs that caused the main rotor blade to strike the helicopter’s cabin, precipitating the in-flight breakup. In addition, there was a delay of almost 2 hours between the accident and when the aircraft was reported missing. Company flight-following procedures were not adhered to, due in part to the company’s flight follower not receiving adequate training. When the aircraft was identified as missing, the flight following technology the company employed was instrumental in finding the accident site because the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) was broadcasting its signal on an incorrect frequency due to an internal failure.

Following the occurrence, the ELT manufacturer produced an improved mounting plate to reduce the chances of ELT damage in an accident. Gemini Helicopters improved its flight-following procedures and implemented a daily flight risk assessment tool used by the operations and dispatch departments. A management team member also authorizes each flight for every aircraft on a daily basis.

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

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