Preliminary Report: Safeway landing proves fatal for EMS flight
Eurocopter AStar AS 350B3, Apache Junction, Ariz., Dec. 14, 2004–Eurocopter N971AE was destroyed when it crashed while landing in a Safeway supermarket parking lot. A flight nurse was killed and the commercial pilot and a medical crewmember were seriously injured. The Air-Evac II flight was landing to pick up a patient. The police and fire department had cleared the area and told the pilot about obstructions.
Witnesses said the helicopter flew over the landing zone in right turns, then approached from the northeast. The final approach altitude was estimated at 100 to 300 feet agl. During the final approach, the helicopter became unstable. It rolled right on the longitudinal axis about 30 degrees, then left about the same, then right about 45 degrees, pitched nose up to the left and descended while rotating left, said witnesses.
The helicopter landed nose down on the left side and the left skid was destroyed. Witnesses reported the sound of an air release similar to the release of air pressure from truck air brakes.
The helicopter was operated by Petroleum Helicopters under Part 91.