Accidents: December 2019

 - December 2, 2019, 6:46 AM

Preliminary Reports

Five Killed in Helicopter Crash off New South Wales

Bell UH-1H, September 6, 2019, five km southwest of Anna Bay, New South Wales, Australia—The pilot and four passengers were killed when their helicopter crashed into the ocean about 5 km (3 miles) southwest of the coastal town of Anna Bay, New South Wales, just north of the port of Newcastle. The accident occurred more than 10 minutes after the end of civil evening twilight in weather that included reduced visibility and wind gusts up to 45 knots with a forecast of severe turbulence. Williamtown Approach Control lost radar contact with the helicopter after it made an unexpected left turn, departing the coastal VFR lane and heading southbound out to sea. ADS-B position data subsequently provided by Airservices Australia showed it continuing southbound for about one minute 20 seconds before entering a rapidly descending left turn, dropping from 3,400 feet to its last recorded altitude of 525 feet in just 22 seconds.

The helicopter had departed from Queensland’s Archerfield Airport at about 2:30 p.m. local time on what was described as “a private flight…repositioning the helicopter to Bankstown Airport, New South Wales.” It lifted off from a fuel stop at Coff’s Harbor, N.S.W. at 4:48 and flew south. The pilot contacted Williamstown Approach at 5:55, six minutes before the forecast end of civil evening twilight, to coordinate the transition through its airspace using a block altitude of 3,000 to 3,500 feet. At 6:05 the controller lowered the block’s floor to 2,400 feet after an abrupt descent to 2,700 that the pilot blamed on turbulence. Radar contact was lost at 6:11 as the helicopter began its turn south, and subsequent attempts to reach the pilot were unsuccessful.

Aerial searches the evening of the accident spotted three oil slicks. The wreckage field was finally located on September 26 after “an extensive sea search, hampered by poor sea and weather conditions.” A large section of the helicopter’s tail boom was eventually recovered from the sea floor at a depth of about 30 meters (100 feet). Small pieces of floating wreckage were also collected.

HondaJet and Hawker Have Nosegear Extension Failures on Same Day

October 7, 2019, Honda HA-420, Charleston, South Carolina—A two-year-old HondaJet sustained serious damage to the underside of the forward section of its fuselage after its nose landing gear failed to extend.  The pilot and all four passengers were uninjured. The pilot told NTSB investigators that he broke off the initial landing approach when the nose gear indicator light remained yellow and an audible “gear unsafe” warning sounded. After a fly-by past Charleston Air Force Base/International Airport’s control tower, controllers advised that the gear doors “did not look right.” The pilot attempted to cycle the gear twice before performing the emergency gear-down checklist without effect; the nosegear indicator light remained red. He then landed the jet on Runway 3, where it slid to a stop and all occupants evacuated the aircraft.

An FAA inspector who examined the airplane reported that “the underside of the forward portion of the fuselage was scraped completely through the hull” with damage to the pressure vessel.  This accident is at least the eighth mishap suffered by HondaJets during landing attempts but the first caused by a documented mechanical anomaly; the others included one blown tire and six runway excursions.

October 7, 2019, Raytheon Hawker 800 XP, Fort Myers, Florida—In the second accident of its type on the same day, a Hawker 800 XP had to land with its nosegear retracted following an extension failure. None of the four people on board (two pilots and two passengers) were injured. The pilot-in-command reported that the takeoff roll at the Naples (Florida) Municipal Airport was normal, but when he retracted the landing gear during initial climb he heard a thud and felt vibration from the direction of the nosegear well. The nosegear indicator light remained red, indicating that it was neither down and locked nor retracted. After the procedure listed in the emergency extension checklist proved unsuccessful, the crew diverted to Fort Myers to land on its 12,000-foot Runway 06 in dry weather. The airplane skidded to a stop on the runway, where the passengers and crew exited through the main cabin door.

Initial examination found the nosegear’s actuator pushrod linkage detached from its attach point. The nut, bolt, and retaining pin were missing, with “deformation in the area where the nut, bolt, and pin assembly should be installed” that prevented installation of a replacement nut, bolt, and pin. The nosegear locked into place when extended by hand. Maintenance records showed that the airplane had been operated for 124 cycles since an overhaul of the main and nose landing gear in January 2019.

Seven Lost in Super Puma Ditching

Airbus Helicopters H225 (EC 225LP) Super Puma, October 31, 2019, off the Dokdo Islands, South Korea—A rescue helicopter crashed into the Sea of Japan just after takeoff, killing all seven on board (see fuller story on Page 46). The aircraft, operated by South Korea’s National 119 Rescue Headquarters, had boarded a patient reported to be an injured fisherman; the other casualties included two pilots and an aircraft mechanic, two rescue workers, and a friend of the patient. The helicopter lifted off just before midnight from the helipad on the larger of the two islets and crashed approximately two minutes later after what witnesses described as erratic low-altitude flight. Prevailing conditions included light winds with no moon.

Divers located the wreckage about 600 meters (2,000 feet) offshore at a depth of 72 meters (235 feet). Three bodies and fragmentary wreckage had been recovered as of November 5. The twin-engine helicopter had recently been returned to service after a 1,000-hour heavy inspection; its pilots are reported to have had a combined 40 years of professional experience.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered immediate safety inspections of the nation’s entire fleet of H225 helicopters. The widespread use of the Super Puma series for overwater transport in harsh environments has contributed to the relatively high fatality rate—close to 50 percent—in accidents involving these models,

Final Reports

Four Deaths Attributed to Loose Bag Striking Tail Rotor

Airbus Helicopters AS350B2, December 14, 2017, Tweed, Ontario, Canada—An empty canvas bag not properly fastened to the helicopter’s external platform came loose and struck the tail rotor, causing severe imbalance and resulting vibration that ultimately wrenched the tail rotor, its gearbox, and the vertical stabilizer from the airframe. The three powerline technicians being transported had not fastened their lap belts and were ejected from the aircraft during the crash sequence. The pilot also died one impact.

The flight was intended to carry the technicians back from worksites in the Tweed Industrial Park to their staging area for lunch. A large pulley and two soft-sided tool bags had been attached to the Air Stair platform with carabiners. About a quarter of a mile from their destination in the staging area, an empty canvas bag with attached carabiner came loose and struck the tail rotor, breaking the tip and balance weight off one blade and causing increasingly destructive vibrations. TSB investigators could not determine whether the bag had been harnessed onto the platform separately, or had come loose from inside another piece of stowed luggage.

The pilot was initially able to maintain control, but as the helicopter descended through 75 feet above ground level on its landing approach, the tail rotor, gearbox, and vertical stabilizer all departed the aircraft. It climbed briefly in a rapid left turn and then descended into the ground. No one outside the aircraft was hurt.

The TSB noted that the helicopter’s operator had used electrical tape to immobilize the passengers’ shoulder harness reels and that the technicians themselves were apt to skip fastening the lap belts on short flights to avoid the difficulty of fastening them over their bulky outdoor winter gear.  

Nosegear Damage Traced to Misplaced Quick-release Pin

Cessna 750 (Citation X+), July 22, 2018, Cork, Ireland—Failure to correctly mate the nosegear’s upper and lower torque links and reinstall the torque link release pin caused the vibration that led the captain to abort the takeoff roll at 67 knots airspeed. The nosegear turned sideways during deceleration, shredding the tires and causing extensive damage to the nosegear assembly as well as to the fuselage nose structure. However, Ireland’s Air Accident Investigation Unit was unable to determine who removed the pin, which was found on the runway in the course of the investigation.

The jet had arrived from Luton, England, four days earlier. Landing, taxi, and parking were uneventful. According to the Cork airport manager, the airplane was not moved after landing until the crew taxied to the runway for departure. The purpose of the torque link release pin is to disconnect the nose gear from the steering mechanism so it can turn freely while the aircraft is towed. It is secured to the airframe by a steel lanyard, leading some pilots to stow it in the cavity in the upper torque link while the aircraft is parked to prevent it from banging against other components in the wind. The upper end of the broken lanyard was still attached to the pin when found.

Neither pilot recalled having removed the pin, and both remembered having seen it “in place” during their preflight inspection. However, a photograph of the airplane while parked on the ramp clearly shows the upper and lower torque links disconnected with the pin stowed in the upper link. During the short taxi from the ramp to the runway, the pilot-in-command noted that the steering felt sluggish, which he attributed to the aircraft’s weight after loading fuel for the transatlantic flight to Gander, Newfoundland. The AAIU cited other accidents in related models as showing that “stiction” between the upper and lower sections of the gear strut can provide limited steering control with the torque links disconnected.