Accidents: May 2019

 - May 1, 2019, 7:00 AM

Preliminary Reports

Wreckage, Cockpit Voice Recorder Recovered From Downed King Air

King Air 200, Jan. 29, 2019, Kake, Alaska—Salvagers have recovered the cockpit voice recorder and substantial portions of the wreckage of the Guardian Flight air ambulance that crashed into Frederick Sound on January 29 but failed to locate the remains of its three crewmembers. In a statement released on March 27, the company reported ending its search for the crew “after exhausting all avenues of exploration and recovery.” An additional helicopter search is planned to scout for whatever additional wreckage might wash up along the shore.

Following detection of the CVR’s “pinger” by a towed sonar tracker on February 11, investigators located “a large debris field” containing an estimated 85 to 90 percent of the aircraft along a rocky bottom some 400 to 500 feet below the surface. The CVR was recovered by a remotely operated submersible on March 19 and turned over to the NTSB. The device, which was described as showing both impact and water damage, has been transported to the NTSB’s Washington, D.C. Vehicle Recorder Laboratory. To date, the lab has not announced whether it has been able to extract any usable data from the recorder or whether it was activated during the accident flight.

The King Air was en route to pick up a patient in the coastal village of Kake when it abruptly turned off course and descended rapidly out of radar contact during the intermediate segment of an instrument approach. Communications with air traffic control had been routine, and no distress call was received.

Missing Helicopter Located After Week-long Search

Robinson R66, March 4, 2019, near Timmins, Cochrane District, Ontario, Canada—One week after it disappeared during a flight from Sudbury to Kapuskasing, Ontario, Royal Canadian Air Force search teams located the wreckage of a Robinson R66 in a wooded area west of the Timmins airport. The bodies of the helicopter’s owners were found at the scene. The accident site was partially covered in snow, which hindered identification of the accident site. RCAF Captain Marty Zimmer, who directed and coordinated search efforts, estimated that crews had overflown the scene eight times before spotting the debris.

Seven RCAF aircraft were joined in the search by three aircraft operated by the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association and a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter. An estimated 85 military personnel were assisted by the Ontario Provincial Police and teams of volunteers organized by the victims’ families.  At press time, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada had not yet released a report on its investigation.

Two Deaths in Gulf Accident

Bell 407, March 10, 2019, offshore from Lafourche Parish, Louisiana—The pilot and sole passenger were killed when a Bristow US helicopter crashed into a marsh moments after taking off from the company’s heliport in Galliano, Louisiana. The flight was intended to reach an offshore oil platform in Viosca Knoll about 69 nm east-southeast of Venice, Louisiana.

According to an NTSB preliminary report, ceilings at Galliano’s South Lafourche Leonard Miller Jr. Airport about five miles west of the accident site were 600 to 800 feet around the time of the accident, with 10 miles visibility beneath. About eight minutes after takeoff, the helicopter departed cruise flight at an altitude of 300 feet. Winds were light, with temperatures about two degrees Celsius above the dew point.

Thrust Reverser Found Unlatched After Fatal Westwind Crash

Israel Aircraft Industries 1124 Westwind, March 18, 2019, Yukon, Oklahoma—After an IAI 1124 Westwind rolled inverted at low altitude and crashed off the left side of the runway, its left engine’s thrust reverser was found unlatched and open. The right engine’s thrust reverser remained closed and latched. The accident took place while the jet was on final approach at the end of a flight from Panama City, Florida. Both pilots, its only occupants, were killed.

The NTSB preliminary report described the airplane as nearing the approach end of Sundance Airport’s Runway 18 before it began to climb, rolled left, and crashed 209 feet east of the runway.  No information was disclosed on why the pilots might have initiated a go-around. The cockpit voice recorder was found not to have recorded any flight since 2007.

Russian Airline Tycoon Killed in Germany

Epic LT, March 31, 2019, near Egelsbach, Germany—Natalia Fileva, co-owner of Russia’s S7 Airline and one of that nation’s wealthiest women, was among three people killed in the crash of an experimental Epic LT during a visual approach to Frankfurt’s Egelsbach Airport. The other victims were reported to be her father and the airplane’s pilot. In addition, two people on the ground were killed when their vehicle collided head-on with a police car responding to the accident scene. The three officers involved suffered serious injuries.

The single-engine turboprop was nearing the end of a flight from Cannes-Mandelieu Airport in southern France when it went down in an asparagus field. The wreckage was largely consumed by fire. As of this writing, German authorities have not disclosed any details of their investigation.

S7, also known as Siberia Airlines, operates a fleet of 96 aircraft serving 181 destinations in 26 countries. In 2012, it purchased Bend, Oregon-based Epic Aircraft, a manufacturer of experimental aircraft kits, with plans to certify the LT turboprop in Russia. Ms. Fileva’s husband Vladislav Filev, who was not on the accident aircraft, serves as chairman of the company’s board of directors. The Russian edition of Forbes magazine estimated her net worth at $600 million, ranking her as that country’s fourth-richest woman.

Final Reports

Low-altitude Mountain Flight Ended By “Servo Transparency”

Airbus Helicopters AS350 B3, December 15, 2018, Superior, Arizona—The loss of an EMS helicopter with two of the three persons on board has been traced to the pilot’s last-second effort to avoid hitting a ridgeline during a high-speed, low-altitude flight through passes in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. In its finding of probable cause, the NTSB cited “the pilot’s decision to perform low-level, high-speed maneuvers through mountainous terrain” as having contributed to his “operating the helicopter outside the performance envelope of its hydraulic system and encountering the servo transparency phenomenon.” Servo transparency occurs when the aerodynamic loads “acting to change the pitch of the rotor blades exceed the hydraulic servo actuators’ capability to resist those forces,” resulting in a sudden and dramatic increase in the control pressures apparent to the pilot. The condition self-corrects quickly if the pilot eases control pressures rather than fighting them.

The helicopter was returning to its base in Globe after transporting a patient to the Baywood Heart Hospital in Mesa with a subsequent fuel stop at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Skies in the vicinity were clear, typical of Arizona in December. From the airport, it followed an east-northeasterly track at about 500 feet above ground level until reaching the southern edge of the Superstition Mountains, which it traversed at altitudes as low as 30 feet agl. After passing through a saddle on the east side of Rogers Canyon, it descended and accelerated, reaching a maximum speed of 148 knots just before its Appareo GAU2000 data logger “recorded an abrupt increase in the helicopter’s pitch rate and right roll rate, consistent with right and aft cyclic inputs.” The flight paramedic, the sole survivor of the accident, recalled hearing the pilot utter “an expletive in a panicked voice…[he] looked up and saw a ridgeline immediately in their flight path and terrain filling up the view.” The helicopter struck a ridgeline not far from another saddle at an elevation of 5,305 feet.

The pilot, safety officer at the Globe base, died shortly after impact. The flight nurse initially remained conscious and alert but succumbed to a combination of chest injuries, internal bleeding, and hypothermia after sunset. The helicopter’s emergency locator transmitter did not activate and personnel monitoring the flight via satellite at the operator’s national communications center failed to notice its disappearance for some two hours and 10 minutes, delaying search-and-rescue efforts. However, the NTSB concluded that the severity of the nurse’s injuries made it unlikely that he would have survived even if the search had begun immediately.

A performance study concluded that aerodynamic loads crossed the threshold for the onset of servo transparency six seconds before the end of the flight and continued to increase until the last second of data recording.

Loss of JetRanger Attributed to Spatial Disorientation

Bell 206 B3, May 30, 2018, Aldborough, North Yorkshire, UK—Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch determined that the pilot of a Bell JetRanger became disoriented in clouds and low visibility, causing his death and the destruction of the aircraft. Witnesses reported seeing the helicopter climb steeply into low clouds. After emerging, it spun counterclockwise through one and a half turns before descending steeply into the ground, rolling inverted and catching fire. Radar track data showed a series of rapid climbs and descents during the flight’s last minute.

The 70-year-old private pilot was attempting to ferry the aircraft from its home base at Husthwaite in North Yorkshire to Walton Wood for its annual inspection, due the following day. Weather along the route, which traverses a narrow corridor between two RAF facilities, was low, with visibilities of two to five miles reported below overcast ceilings of 300 to 600 feet. An air ambulance pilot who responded to the scene described conditions as “challenging…which required his local knowledge and air ambulance exemptions to operate.” 

Exhaustive examination of the wreckage found no evidence of any mechanical anomalies prior to impact. The pilot’s logbook documented just 255 hours of career flight experience, which included 224 in the same make and model but only one 30-minute flight in the previous 10 months. Acquaintances described him as flying only in good weather. While the inspection deadline could have been extended, his busy personal schedule would have complicated finding an alternative date for the flight.