The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch cited pilot disorientation, combined with limited instrument flying experience, as the most likely cause of the March 1, 2003, crash of Agusta A109E G-PWER at Bour-nemouth, England. The accident took the lives of the ALTP-rated pilot and his passenger. The pilot, who had 3,094 hours total and 78 on type, had positioned empty that day to Battersea Heliport, London, to pick up the owner of the A109E and fly him back to his home base at Bournemouth.
Ten minutes before the crash a Bournemouth weather check gave the wind as 180/10, with visibility of 1.7 miles in light rain with clouds at 1,200 feet, scattered at 1,700 feet and overcast at 2,300 feet. The tower and radar controllers identified the helicopter tracking inbound on the localizer for Runway 26, although they had no visual contact.
Soon after the runway and approach lights were turned to maximum intensity to assist the pilot, he reported that he was just becoming visual at about one mile, but almost immediately the tower radar display showed a descending turn to the left. When the radar controller asked if he required help the pilot responded “Yeah” 11 times in quick succession. After acknowledging the response the controller asked if everything was under control and the pilot responded “Negative, negative.”
The radar returns showed that the helicopter’s altitude varied between 1,000 and 400 feet, with a constant turn to the left through 540 degrees during which the pilot made a continuous transmission of 29 seconds, followed soon after by an 18-second transmission saying he had a problem but not what it was.
Shortly before impact he transmitted “OK it’s OK I need a climb I need a climb.” His logbook showed no record of instrument flight since December 1999.