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N911XW accident description

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Tail numberN911XW
Accident dateNovember 08, 2002
Aircraft typeWestland Helicopters Gazelle AH-MK1
LocationEast Hampton, NY
Near 40.888611 N, -72.269445 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

On November 8, 2002, about 2325 eastern standard time, a Westland Helicopters Gazelle AH-MK1, N911XW, a former British military helicopter registered in the experimental category, was destroyed when it impacted the Atlantic Ocean near East Hampton, New York. The certificated private pilot was lost at sea, and presumed fatally injured. The helicopter departed Long Island-MacArthur Airport (ISP), Islip, New York, at 2304, and was destined for East Hampton Airport (HTO), East Hampton, New York. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight, conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

According to a report filed by the East Hampton Police Department, the pilot was expected home in Sag Harbor, New York on the evening of November 8, 2002. The pilot's wife was not immediately concerned when he did not arrive, because the pilot's business frequently caused his schedule to change. On the morning of November 9, 2002, the pilot's automobile was discovered parked at Long Island-MacArthur Airport, and debris from the helicopter was recovered from the beaches of East Hampton.

A review of Air Traffic Control (ATC) voice and radar recordings revealed that the pilot contacted the Long Island-MacArthur ground controller at 2256, and requested a "punch-out to the west." He later repeated his intention to depart under visual flight rules (VFR) to the west.

When the pilot contacted the tower controller, he requested and received a clearance to depart VFR to the west. A few minutes after takeoff, the tower controller requested a clarification from the pilot.

Tower: "November nine one one xray whiskey, I show you radar contact. I thought you were going west?"

Pilot: "I'm showing a heading of one-two-zero right now."

Tower: "...That's southeast. West is two-seven-zero."

Pilot: "I'm sorry...I apologize. I am heading east."

The controller informed the pilot that he was 5 miles southeast of the airport, terminated radar services, and approved a radio frequency change. The pilot acknowledged the radio call.

A radar plot for a target identified as the accident helicopter depicted a ground track that departed the airport in a southeasterly direction, then turned to the northeast. The track continued in a generally east-northeast direction, until reaching Great Peconic Bay, when it turned easterly, towards Southampton. The track passed to the east of Southampton, then continued southeast, past the shoreline.

Cruise altitudes over Long Island varied between 600 feet and 2,500 feet. About 1 mile from the shoreline, and about 1,000 feet, the target entered a descent. Its initial rate of descent was about 1,400 feet per minute, but during the 12 seconds before reaching the shoreline, the descent rate was 2,500 feet per minute.

The target crossed the shoreline at 200 feet, and continued to the southeast, over water, for another 24 seconds, before its last contact at 2322.

On November 18, 2002, a fishing vessel snagged and recovered a significant amount of wreckage identified as the accident helicopter. The main transmission was recovered, along with the main rotor mast, main rotor hub, and all three main rotor blade grips attached. Approximately 30 percent of the yellow main rotor blade remained outboard the grip, with the remainder of the skin and honeycomb either fractured or separated. The leading edge spar was exposed. The blue main rotor blade was fractured about 2 feet outboard of the grip, and the leading edge spar was splintered. The red main rotor blade was fractured just outboard of the grip, and the fracture surface was splintered and "broomstrawed".

Examination of the transmission input drive quill, and the tail rotor output drive quill, revealed the remains of driveshaft flexible couplings attached to each. Further examination of both couplings revealed rotational scoring, and flexplates twisted and fractured opposite the direction of rotation.

The engine was not recovered.

According to the owner/operator of Helicopter Flight Training, Inc. (formally Eastern Helicopters), Islip, New York, his company provided flight instruction to the accident pilot, rented him helicopters, housed the accident helicopter under a different business entity, and provided maintenance support.

According the operator, the pilot began his flight training about 18 months prior to the accident. The pilot received all of his flight training in a Robinson R-22 piston-powered helicopter, and performed the practical test for his private pilot certificate in the R-22 as well.

According to the operator, the pilot's abilities were about average for a beginning helicopter pilot. He stated that he counseled the pilot, as he did all of his students, that earning his pilot certificate "was a license to learn." He also cautioned him not to try to fly in "helicopter weather."

The operator further noted that there was a scud layer "running right down the island" on the night of the accident. Fog was also "moving in and out. Some places it was clear, but towards the ocean it wasn't. That ocean gets awful black out there. He shouldn't have been out there at night. He's been told."

When asked how much experience the pilot had flying at night, the operator stated that the pilot had the minimum required for taking the practical examination for his pilot certificate. He added that he did not encourage beginning helicopter pilots to fly solo at night.

The operator also stated that the helicopter was recently purchased by the accident pilot for his personal use. It was purchased in Colorado, and delivered to Islip by truck. The pilot received about 1 hour of instruction in it from the previous owner, prior to taking delivery.

After taking delivery, the accident pilot flew in the accident helicopter with a certified flight instructor who acted as a safety pilot. According to the safety pilot, he flew approximately 10 hours in the helicopter with the pilot, and the helicopter performed and handled well. There was no stabilization system or force trim on the flight controls; only the friction on the cyclic control could be adjusted, and the helicopter required hands-on control at all times.

According to the safety pilot, the accident pilot was competent enough to take off from the airport on a good day, in good weather, in daylight, and come back. The safety pilot added that the pilot had difficulty with tasks that required a division of attention, and could not maintain heading, airspeed, or altitude if he looked down to tune the radios.

The accident pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for rotorcraft-helicopter, which he received on July 7, 2002. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third class medical certificate was issued March 8, 2001, and he reported 53 hours of flight experience on that date.

The pilot's logbook was not recovered. However, a review of his training records revealed that he had accrued 115.9 hours of flight experience, all of which, was in the Robinson R-22. In addition, on his application for his private pilot certificate, the pilot stated that he had accrued 3.0 hours of "night instruction received."

According to the pilot's father-in-law, the accident flight was the pilot's second solo flight in the helicopter.

Fuel records for the helicopter revealed that the pilot made six fuel purchases at Long Island-MacArthur Airport, for a total of 424 gallons of fuel. A survey of fuel vendors in the surrounding area revealed no other fuel purchases for the helicopter. Based on the manufacturer's standard fuel consumption rate of 43 gallons per hour, fuel records indicated an estimated 10 hours of operation.

The helicopter was a 1974 Westland Gazelle AH (Attack Helicopter) MK1, originally operated by the British Royal Army.

At 2256, the weather reported at Long Island MacArthur Airport included clear skies, visibility 10 statute miles, with winds from 220 degrees at 9 knots. According to the United States Naval Observatory, sunset was at 1637, and the moon set at 1952.

A pilot of a Hughes 500 helicopter, who was flying in the Islip area on the night of the accident, stated that there was a lower layer of "scud" around 400 feet that made it difficult to see ground lights. He added that it was clear above the cloud layer, and that conditions worsened to the east.

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