Preliminary Report: Agusta hits hill following tail-rotor separation

 - August 12, 2008, 5:11 AM

AGUSTA A109K2, SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH, JUNE 7, 2003–Agusta N123RX, operated by IHC Hospitals and piloted by an ATP-rated pilot, was destroyed when it hit a hillside 13.7 miles southeast of Salt Lake International Airport (SLC) at 8:12 p.m. MDT. The helicopter, which was not on a flight plan, was in VMC and operating as an air rescue flight under Part 135. The pilot was killed, a paramedic on board received minor injuries and the flight nurse was unharmed. The flight originated in a residential area southeast of SLC and was en route to Ogden, Utah.

The flight nurse reported they had just finished rescuing a lost hiker and were preparing to return to home base at Ogden. The pilot told her that dispatch wanted them to proceed home because the helicopter was due for a 25-hour inspection. He further told her that he would drop her off at the hospital, where she had been picked up earlier, on his way back to Ogden but that they had to return to the location where they had picked up the hiker so he could get an altitude reading.

Before the helicopter took off, search-and-rescue personnel warned the pilot of paragliders in the area. The flight nurse said the pilot acknowledged the warnings and then took off and proceeded southbound. The flight nurse said they were climbing out when she heard a loud noise from beneath the helicopter. She said she heard the pilot say, “oh no” and then the helicopter began spinning clockwise out of control. She said she was being tossed around but was trying to get into a position for the crash. After impact, the nurse got out through the front of the helicopter and checked the paramedic strapped into the left seat and found him unconscious. She then went for the radio to call for help. She recalled that the engines were still running, she smelled fuel and she noticed the tail rotor was missing.

Several witnesses on the ground heard and saw the helicopter. The witnesses recalled that the helicopter took off and made a right turn to proceed south. Several witnesses said they heard a loud bang, but there is no record of anyone seeing the aircraft hit anything.

Most of the witnesses described the helicopter as doing a 360-degree counter-clockwise turn, then the nose of the helicopter pitched up, the tail rotor came off and the helicopter continued to spin and descend until impact.