Sikorsky S-76C, New York, June 17, 2005– Corporate Aviation Services’ S-76 was substantially damaged when it crashed into the East River after taking off from the 34th Street Metroport in Manhattan. The 11,470-hour ATP-rated pilot was seriously injured. The 3,500-hour ATP-rated copilot and six passengers, all top executives at MBNA, escaped with minor injuries.
VMC prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the corporate/executive flight to New Castle County Airport, near Wilmington, Del., where MBNA corporate offices are located.
The crew waited at Newark Liberty International Airport, in Newark, N.J., and topped off the helicopter’s fuel tanks, which put it, with passengers and nine pieces of luggage, close to its computed maximum gross weight.
After an uneventful 10-minute flight to the Metroport, which included a “steep” climb to 1,000 feet, the helicopter landed to the west, facing FDR Drive. The engines continued to run for five to 10 minutes while the crew waited for the passengers to arrive.
Because of obstructions in front of the S-76 and other helicopters parked on either side, the crew decided to “back out” of the parking spot and planned a hovering takeoff to the rear, with a right pedal turn and a departure to the north over the water. The pilot explained to investigators that the helicopter was “heavy” and a right pedal turn required less power. The windsock, he said, was “dead.” Wind at La Guardia, five miles east, was from 270 degrees at 17 knots, gusting to 21 knots.
The helicopter climbed as it backed out of the parking spot. At 25 to 30 feet above the water, about the time of the right pedal turn, the helicopter began to “sink.” The pilot said he noticed an audible “degrading” of the rotor rpm, but he did not crosscheck the engine instruments or the rotor tachometer. “It felt like we were losing power and we were starting to sink. I didn’t know if we had enough power to fly away, and I couldn’t land back due to crowding [on the helipad]. It was not responding, and the rotor rpm was going down.”
The helicopter shuddered during the descent, as the pilot adjusted the flight controls to cushion the landing to the water. He attempted to deploy the landing gear floats but was “too late” and the helicopter sank. The tailboom separated from the fuselage.
Neither the pilot nor the copilot could find the door handles to leave the helicopter. The pilot said he had “no idea” how he left the cockpit; the copilot broke his window to escape. The passengers left by the right cabin door. Asked later if they were familiar with the emergency evacuation, they replied, “Some,” “Somewhat” and “No.” Only one of the six passengers said he was familiar with the emergency procedures.