Factual Report: Firefighting helo crashes

 - October 9, 2007, 5:05 AM

BELL B206L-3, WHITERIVER, ARIZ., JULY 26, 2003–At 10:34 a.m. MST Bell Long-Ranger N6184D, operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) at Fort Apache Indian Reservation under Part 91, was destroyed after crashing near Whiteriver. The commercial pilot and one passenger died in the crash and two passengers were seriously injured.

The helicopter departed Whiteriver Airport (E24) to insert a three-person helicopter initial attack (helitack) crew to fight a wildland fire along the Aspen Ridge 12 miles from E24. It was on a company flight plan in day VMC.

A witness on the ground told the NTSB he had been dropped off by the helicopter at the road-landing zone (LZ), 100 yards west of the accident site. He said there were five people aboard the helicopter when they departed E24. No problems were noted en route, they landed in a meadow and two of the helitack crew exited the helicopter.

The helicopter then flew up the drainage area to the LZ, where the witness exited and off-loaded fire packs and tools. He said the initial landing was on the front side of a small hump in the road. Before he exited, the pilot moved the helicopter back to a flatter area. When the pilot repositioned the helicopter, the witness heard a knocking noise.

The witness said the pilot took off again for the meadow. He reported that when the helicopter came back to the LZ, it was about 10 to 20 feet above the tree line. He estimated that the trees were about 100 feet tall, and said the helicopter was flying slowly.

The witness said he was getting ready to marshal the flight in when the helicopter flew past him, continuing up the drainage area. The witness reported that he did not know why they flew past him. He looked away to do something else and heard a noise. When he looked up he saw the helicopter spinning to the right and then lost sight but heard what he believed was the helicopter hitting the trees. The witness ran to the accident site, rescued the survivors and extinguished a post-crash fire.

An accident survivor told the NTSB that immediately before the accident he saw the torque reading go from 100 to 105 then to 110 percent as the pilot started to make a right turn. He asked the pilot if the tail rotor was going to stall, but received no response. At that point, he noted the fuel gauge read 200 pounds and the airspeed gauge read zero.

The survivor said that as the pilot was beginning the right turn he could see him “fighting with the [flight] controls.” He reported that the pilot was moving the collective, cyclic and “his feet.” The witness radioed dispatch, saying “dispatch” six times before the helicopter started to spin. He remembers the helicopter spinning two times to the right, and the next thing he remembered was trying to breathe.
The helicopter was recovered four days later and an inspection found there were no discrepancies with the airframe or engine. An investigation is ongoing.