HAI Convention News

Seven-year gestation for engine failure

 - February 23, 2008, 12:24 PM

A Eurocopter AS 350D that lost engine power during a sightseeing flight in January 2006 and suffered “substantial” damage during the landing had lost oil pressure seven years earlier and exhibited “significant” engine-bearing damage and heat distress due to the oil-starvation event, the NTSB reported last month.

The Safety Board put the blame for the crash on Kahului, Hawaii-based Alika Aviation (operating as Alex Air) and the engine leasing agent, Sunrise Helicopter, based in Spring, Texas, for failing to “ensure the engine’s airworthiness.” Alex Air installed the engine in the helicopter in December 2005 and determined it to be airworthy.

Investigators said they found “numerous discrepancies” in the engine logbooks, however, and could not even positively identify the engine’s serial number because the data plate had been defaced. The NTSB also found that the Rolls-Royce engine had been labeled “unserviceable” in a 2003 engine logbook entry, although someone had written the word “void” over the entry. A 2004 engine logbook entry noted that the engine had been in long-term storage and required long-term preservation and further maintenance, but investigators found no record of either.

The Safety Board also determined that before the 2006 accident the pilot had failed to move the caution warning panel (CWP) light switch to the maximum brightness position, which is required during daylight operations. The pilot “did not report observing illumination of any annunciator light prior to experiencing the total loss of engine power,” the NTSB said.

Investigators reviewed a videotape provided by a passenger on the accident flight and noted, “At no time during the flight in which the CWP was visible were any of the bulbs in the CWP visibly illuminated. At all times during the flight when the CWP was visible, the toggle switch (brightness control) was observed in the ‘-’ (minimum) position, and the flight occurred during bright daylight conditions.”

According to NTSB reports, two other Hawaiian Eurocopters reported loss of engine power in January 2006. On January 5, an EC 130B4 lost engine power and made an emergency landing in Honokohau Valley, near Lahaina. Five days later, an AS 350BA lost engine power and autorotated into a tropical forest near Hana on Maui. All three accidents, including the January 29 AS 350D accident, were operating as Part 135 sightseeing flights. No deaths were reported.