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N5734M accident description

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Tail numberN5734M
Accident dateFebruary 21, 2005
Aircraft typeBell 206-L1
LocationGentry, AR
Near 36.324723 N, -94.579445 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On February 21, 2005, at 1339 central standard time, a single-engine Bell 206-L1 helicopter, N5734M, operated by Air Evac Lifeteam was substantially damaged during a hard landing following a loss of control while hovering out of ground effect near Gentry, Arkansas. The commercial pilot, the flight nurse, and the paramedic were seriously injured and the patient was fatally injured. The helicopter was registered to Air Evac Leasing Corporation, of West Plains, Missouri, d/b/a Air Evac Lifeteam, and was destined for Springdale, Arkansas. No flight plan was filed and visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the air medical transport flight conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135.

According to Arkansas State Police reports, the patient was involved in a single motor vehicle, rollover traffic accident. A dispatcher with Bentonville Fire and Ambulance, Bentonville, Arkansas, dispatched ground units to the accident scene and contacted Air Evac Lifeteam. She told the Air Evac Lifeteam dispatcher that she had no details of the patient's injuries but the situation was "bad." The dispatcher requested helicopter support and provided global positioning system (GPS) coordinates of the accident site.

A review of Air Evac Lifeteam's radio transmissions revealed that at 1231, the Claremore, Oklahoma, based crew was dispatched to the accident site because the Springdale, Arkansas, crew were responding to another call. At 1239, the helicopter departed Claremore Regional Airport, and one minute later a crewmember reported there were three people on board and their estimated time en route was 20-30 minutes. While en route, the pilot contacted dispatch and informed them that they were unable to locate the motor vehicle accident and requested an update of the accident site's GPS coordinates. The dispatcher contacted Bentonville Fire and Ambulance and learned that there were no changes to the GPS coordinates. The pilot and crew continued to search for the vehicle accident site.

Meanwhile, the patient had been transported via ambulance approximately one-half mile south of where the vehicle accident occurred to a designated landing zone, which was the front lawn of a private residence.

About 1327, a helicopter crewmember contacted dispatch and reported that they had located the site and were landing at the designated landing zone.

An Arkansas State Trooper, who had escorted the ambulance, reported that he observed the helicopter circle over the accident site, and then execute an approach to the north and land. The patient was then transferred over to the flight crew and loaded on to the helicopter. The Trooper observed the helicopter as it departed. He said he heard the helicopter's engine achieve full power and then it began a vertical climb to approximately 100 feet, when it began to spin. The helicopter continued to spin, before it got "silent' and dropped to the ground in a field adjacent to the landing zone.

Several emergency medical service (EMS) personnel also observed the helicopter as it departed. Each reported similar accounts of how the helicopter started to spin shortly after it departed, and subsequently land in the field.

A witness, who owned the property where the helicopter had landed, was in her backyard when she observed the helicopter depart. She said the helicopter was initially parked in her front yard facing the north. As it departed, the helicopter ascended and then began to slowly spin to the right as it maneuvered over her house and toward an open field adjacent to her home. She said the helicopter began to spin faster, and after it made several rotations it "dropped" and landed upright in the field. The witness could not recall how high the helicopter was above the ground when it started to spin, but she felt that it was too low. She also stated that she did not hear any unusual noises from the helicopter during its short flight.

The pilot was interviewed in the hospital the day after the accident. He stated that during his recon of the landing zone, he could not find any indicators that would assist him with determining wind direction; however, when he had reviewed the weather that morning the winds were reported out of the north between 330 and 030 degrees and were "brisk", about 10-15 knots. The pilot was also able to identify and verify all obstacles reported by his crew in the vicinity of the designated landing zone.

After the patient was boarded, the pilot said that he pointed the nose of the helicopter on a heading of 360 degrees, then lifted the helicopter to a hover, and noted that the engine torque was near 100 percent. While still in a hover, the pilot maneuvered the helicopter to the right and stopped when he was within 20-25 feet of the property owner's home. He did this so he could avoid the approximately 60-foot-high power lines that ran diagonally in front of the helicopter from southwest to northeast. There was also a set of power lines that ran north/south behind the property owner's home. Both sets of power lines converged at the same wooden utility pole, which was located north of the home.

The pilot stated that when he departed, he began a vertical ascent but was trying not to increase the collective above the available torque. He added that he was concerned about clearing the power lines and losing effectiveness of the tail rotor. When the helicopter reached an altitude that was slightly below the power lines, it began an uncommanded turn to the right. The pilot had full left torque pedal applied at the time, and said that he attempted to gain forward airspeed, and also used the cyclic to follow the nose of the aircraft in an attempt to fly out of the turn. The pilot was unable to gain airspeed, and the helicopter began to spin to the right and descend. The pilot stated that his only option was to initiate an autoration, so he lowered the collective and placed the throttle in the idle position, which slowed the spinning. When the helicopter was approximately 10-20 feet above the ground, the pilot placed the collective to the full-up position to cushion the landing; however, there was not sufficient main rotor rpm to stop the high rate of descent. After the impact, the pilot said the engine was still running so he secured the helicopter, which included turning off the fuel valve and battery switch.

The helicopter was equipped with an In-Flight Position System (IPS), which tracked the helicopter's movement as soon as its skids broke ground. A review of IPS data revealed that the helicopter departed Claremore Regional Airport at 1239, and landed at the designated landing zone near the accident site at 1327, a 48-minute flight. It then departed at 1335 with the patient onboard, and landed in a field four minutes later at 1339, the time of the accident. In addition, a review of the helicopter's complete flight from Claremore to the accident site revealed that the helicopter did not proceed directly to the accident site, which was approximately 50 miles east of Claremore, Oklahoma. Instead, it flew on a northeasterly, then easterly course, toward the Gravette Medical Center Hospital, Gravette, Arkansas. After the helicopter passed the hospital, it made a right 180-degree turn and proceeded to fly westbound for several miles before it made a left turn and headed south toward the accident site.

According to the pilot, he set the accident site coordinates in one of the onboard GPS receivers prior to the flight. He said that after departure, he pushed the "direct" button on the receiver and then proceeded directly to the accident site. However, he was not aware that there was an IPS system installed on the helicopter and that his entire flight had been recorded. When asked why he flew the non-direct route that was recorded by the IPS, he stated that he did not recall that part of the flight, but did recall that the crew was more familiar with the area than he was, and that they "did have to maneuver and search for the accident site and they made a lot of corrections during the flight. If one of the crew members thought the coordinates were over there, then they would fly over there."

The pilot denied that he may have programmed the GPS receiver incorrectly, and said that he would normally check his data.

The accident occurred during the hours of daylight approximately 36 degrees, 19 minutes north latitude, and 94 degrees, 34 minutes west longitude.

PILOT INFORMATION

The pilot held a commercial certificate for rotorcraft-helicopter, instrument helicopter, and airplane single-engine land. He was also a certificated airframe and power plant mechanic. The pilot reported a total of 3,500 hours of total flight time, of which approximately 3,438 hours were in helicopters with 15 hours were in the make and model. His last second-class FAA medical certificate was issued on December 13, 2004.

During an interview, the pilot said that he had recently flown (within two weeks of the accident) Blackhawk helicopters for the United Stated Army, and had recently worked for a major airline as an avionics technician. Due to recent furloughs, and having friends who were EMS pilots, he applied to Air Evac Leasing Corporation and was hired as a pilot.

According to the operator, the pilot was hired on January 10, 2005, and completed the New-Hire Training program on January 20, 2005. All of his training was completed in a Bell 206-L1 helicopter, which totaled 11.1 hours.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

Air Evac Leasing Corporation had completely refurbished the helicopter (S/N: 45449) at their facility in West Plains, Missouri. The helicopter had undergone an annual inspection on January 25, 2005, at an airframe total time of 23,121.8 hours. Since that time, the helicopter had accrued a total of 22.9 hours.

A review of the flight load manifest revealed that the airplane was under its maximum gross weight and within the allowable center of gravity limits at the time of the accident.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

Weather reported at Smith Airport (SLG), near Siloam Springs, Arkansas, approximately 10 miles southeast of the accident site, at 1335, included wind from 050 degrees at 7 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, clear skies, temperature 61 degrees Fahrenheit, dewpoint 46 degrees Fahrenheit, and a barometric pressure setting of 30.01 inches of Mercury.

One of Air Evac Lifeteam's pilots, who responded to the helicopter accident scene, reported that the wind in the surrounding area most of that day were from 030 to 050 degrees at 10 knots or less. He said the wind at the accident site were about the same, "as best [as he] could tell."

WRECKAGE INFORMATION

The helicopter came to rest upright in a grass field on a heading of 172 degrees, approximately 100 yards southeast from where it had departed at an elevation of approximately 1,000 feet mean sea level (msl).

Both skids were spread their maximum distance, and the fuselage of the helicopter was resting flat on the ground. The aft skid cross-tube had pushed upward into the lower fuselage of the aircraft and ruptured the fuel cell. According to the Arkansas State Trooper, a significant amount of jet fuel surrounded the helicopter shortly after the accident.

The main rotor system including both blades, the tail boom, and tail rotor were relatively intact.

The engine, transmission, and tail rotor drive shaft panels were removed. The tail rotor #1 drive shaft (forward short shaft) was torsionally sheared and had separated into two sections. These pieces were found resting on the engine deck beneath the engine. Examination of the fractured ends revealed the steel drive shaft was twisted at the fracture points, indicative of the engine operating at the time of impact.

The engine fuel-filter canister contained a clear-colored liquid, that emitted an odor consistent with jet fuel, and it was absent of debris and water. The upper and lower transmission chip detectors were absent of debris or metal particles.

No pre impact mechanical anomalies were found with either the engine or the airframe.

SURVIVAL FACTORS INFORMATION

The pilot occupied the front right seat. His seat base was crushed and the frame exhibited a V-shaped deformation. His 4-point seatbelt/inertia reel shoulder harness assembly was found unlatched and both shoulder harnesses were displaced over the sides of the seatback. All seatbelt/shoulder harness attachment points were secure and the seatbelt functioned normally when tested. His injuries included compressed vertebrae, and a large cut over his right eye.

The flight nurse sat in the right aft seat. Her seat frame exhibited some deformation and cracking near the base. Her 4-point seatbelt/inertia reel shoulder harness assembly was found unlatched, and both shoulder harness straps were draped over her seatback. All seatbelt/shoulder harness attachment points were secure and the seatbelt functioned normally when tested. Her injuries included fractured vertebrae, a broken right knee and a bilateral fracture of both heel bones.

The paramedic sat in the left aft seat. His seat frame exhibited some deformation and cracking near the base. His seatbelt assembly was found unlatched, and both shoulder harness straps were rolled up and neatly placed above his seatback. The two female brackets were found placed between the firewall and interior lining. All seatbelt/shoulder harness attachment points were secure and the seatbelt functioned normally when tested. His injuries included several broken teeth, a severely fractured left orbital bone, right tibia/fibula fractures, pelvic fractures, torn ligaments in his right ankle, L4-L5 fractured vertebrae, and right shoulder injury. The paramedic was the only occupant wearing a helmet. The helmet was cracked on its left side and exhibited some blood splatter. Air Evac Leasing Corporation does not require flight crews to wear helmets, nor does the FAA require them.

The patient was loaded into the airplane on a backboard and strapped down to an aluminum litter, which was located on the left side of the helicopter. According to the paramedic, the patient's feet were loaded toward the front of the helicopter, and his head was facing aft toward the rear of the aircraft. In this configuration, the patient's head would have been slightly situated between the paramedic's knees. Examination of the litter revealed that is was partially displaced from its mounting brackets, and the base of the litter had partially separated from its frame. The base was riveted to the frame, and several of the rivets had sheared. The base was also deformed.

In a telephone conversation, the Benton County Coroner stated that the patient sustained facial injuries, including a cracked skull, crushed trachea (had filled with blood), and flattened facial features, from the helicopter accident. She had interviewed EMS personnel who responded to the vehicle accident site, and they reported that the patient's injuries were visible bleeding from an ear, and that he was combative, but no facial injuries. He may also have sustained a broken hip and abrasions to his arms and body. The Coroner also reported that she had retained recorded data from the patient's heart monitor, which indicated that the patient was stable when he was placed in the helicopter. At the time of the accident, the patient's vital signs spiked and then "dramatically" dropped off. EMS personnel, who witnessed the accident, immediately started CPR on him and attempted to place a trachea tube down his throat, but it was filled with blood. EMS personnel also reported that the patient had a heart rate of six beats per minutes, and they were unable to revive him. The coroner's report suspected that the patient's primary cause of death was a skull fracture and the secondary cause of death was a suspected fractured trachea.

After the helicopter accident, an employee of the Bentonville Fire and Ambulance contacted Air Evac Leasing Corporation and reported the accident. He requested that two more helicopters be sent to the scene to transport the surviving occupants to area hospitals.

According to the Survival Factors Sp

(c) 2009-2011 Lee C. Baker. For informational purposes only.