Tail-rotor failure suspected in NYC rooftop crash of ENG helo

 - October 8, 2007, 6:44 AM

Tail-rotor failure appears to be the culprit in the May 4 crash of a Eurocopter AS 350 news helicopter in New York City. But the NTSB said that tail-rotor control continuity could not be determined because of the extensive damage caused when the helicopter slammed onto a rooftop in Brooklyn, N.Y. The WNBC-TV helicopter, N4NY, crashed into a four-story building before breaking in two and falling onto a two-story building. The rotorcraft, being operated under Part 91, was in a hover covering a shooting when it went down.

All three people aboard were hurt, but none critically. Pilot Russ Mowry was in the front right seat; reporter Andrew Torres was in the front left seat; and a recently hired pilot, Hassan Taan-Marin, was in the rear middle seat.

Mowry, a 6,500-hour pilot who was shot down three times in Vietnam, told the New York Daily News that the crash was the scariest moment of his life. “I was looking death in the face,” Mowry said from his hospital room. “We were in a hover at 1,000 feet and I was just flying the helicopter, and then something happened–it just came out of control,” Mowry said. Before crashing, Mowry called controllers at Kennedy International Airport and said the tail rotor had failed.

Mowry told the Safety Board that he didn’t remember telling JFK that he had a tail-rotor failure, and that he didn’t recall seeing any warning lights or hearing any audible warnings. But both the reporter and the pilot/passenger did hear a warning horn, according to their NTSB interviews.

The accident flight was the helicopter’s second flight of the day. After the first flight, the helicopter was refueled and preflighted, the NTSB said.

The two pilots work for Van Nuys, Calif.-based Helinet Aviation Services, which leased the 1988 helicopter from Horsham Valley Airways of Horsham, Pa. In a statement after the accident, Helinet said that since 1987, “we have logged over 200,000 hours of flight time, while maintaining a safety record that is one of the best in the industry.” Since 2000, Helinet said it has had an accident rate (number of accidents per 100,000 flight hours) of 1.7, compared with an industry average of close to 9.0. Helinet began operating the WNBC helicopter about three months ago. It is the only helicopter the company leases.

WNBC news helicopters had experienced three previous crashes. In 1986, a WNBC Radio traffic reporter, Jane Dornacker, and the pilot survived a crash into the Hackensack River, but Dornacker was killed in a Hudson River helo crash later that year. In 1998, another WNBC helicopter crashed in the Passaic River.

At the time of the accident, N4NY had 8,377 hours on the airframe and about 400 hours on the engine. The AS 350BA was subject to a February 2002 AD that required inspection of tail-rotor blades for cracks and the replacement of any damaged ones. Two months later, in April 2002, another AD required replacing the tail-rotor hub pitch-change SNR Aerospace bearings. “All company aircraft are compliant with all ADs and manufacturer’s mandatory service bulletins,” according to Helinet.

“I’ll fly again,” Mowry told the Daily News from his hospital room a day after the accident. “I have a long way to go. I have the best job in the world.”