Final Flight: Improper use of night vision goggles downed helo

 - December 11, 2006, 8:45 AM

Eurocopter AS 350 B3, Pilar, N.M., Jan. 29, 2005–The NTSB blamed the accident on the pilot’s failure to maintain control and his improper use of night-vision goggles (NVGs). His spatial disorientation, self-induced pressure to return the helicopter to its home base, lack of experience in the use of NVGs, use of exterior lights on a dark night, under overcast skies and against snow-covered terrain, were listed as contributing factors.

The Petroleum Helicopters commercial pilot was following a road to his destination at night, wearing night vision goggles. He focused the Nitesun searchlight mounted on the bottom of the fuselage on the mountains to the right and the nose searchlight on the road below. He could see the traffic on the road for about 15 minutes, then the attitude indicator showed a 60- to 70-degree descending left turn and the altimeter and airspeed indicator confirmed the trend. He tried to correct but became disoriented. The helicopter crashed, rolled on its right side and was destroyed by fire. The pilot was uninjured.

The helicopter was returning from an EMS flight when it encountered deteriorating weather and landed at a hospital. The company’s lead pilot went to fly the helicopter back to base so it could undergo scheduled maintenance.