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N126TV accident description

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Tail numberN126TV
Accident dateNovember 16, 2000
Aircraft typeEurocopter AS350B2
LocationHouston, TX
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On November 16, 2000, approximately 2155 central standard time, a Eurocopter AS350B2 helicopter, N126TV, was destroyed following impact with wires and terrain while maneuvering in the River Oaks section of Houston, Texas. The Fox 26 News helicopter was owned and operated by Helicopter Services, Inc., of Spring, Texas. The airline transport pilot, sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. Dark night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site, and a flight plan was not filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 positioning flight. The flight originated from the William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), at 2145, and was destined for the David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport (DWH), Spring, Texas, located 29 nautical miles northwest of HOU.

Two law enforcement officers, who were coming out of the Chuy's Restaurant, located about two blocks northeast of the accident site, reported observing the helicopter "flying at a very low altitude" northbound along Kirby Drive. The officers walked around the restaurant to the parking lot where they met another officer. All three officers heard the helicopter fly over the parking lot in a southwestern direction. The officers looked for the helicopter, but they could not see it due to the poor visibility. When the helicopter came into view, it was "banked to the right" traveling in a westerly direction and paralleling Westheimer Road. The helicopter continued in a downward direction, and then a "huge fireball" was observed.

A witness, who resided approximately two blocks east-southeast of the accident site, reported that he heard the helicopter as it flew past his house from east to west at about 25 feet higher than his house. The helicopter was so loud that it shook his house. He further reported that the engine sounded like it was producing full power, as though the helicopter was taking off. He commented that the engine was not sputtering.

A witness at the Lizzards Pub initially heard a roaring sound, and ran outside to see what it was. Once outside he realized that it was a helicopter and it was "coming in just over the street in front of Li[z]zard's Pub looking like it was going to crash into the houses and trees across the street;" however, "the pilot pulled up enough to avoid them. It seemed like he was trying to make it to the Lutheran Church parking lot. After avoiding the trees, he caught the power line[s] and dropped to the ground."

After the helicopter struck the wires, it struck a power pole and impacted an above ground gas meter located next to a beauty salon on the north side of Elm Street at Bammel Lane. An electrical transformer exploded, and the helicopter was consumed by the ensuing fire. The beauty salon was damaged by the fire, and several business structures were damaged by flying debris.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

According to FAA records, the pilot was issued an airline transport pilot certificate on January 20, 1997, for multiengine land airplanes. He also held a commercial certificate for airplane single-engine land and rotorcraft-helicopter with a helicopter instrument rating. On April 27, 2000, the pilot completed initial AS350 helicopter ground and flight training, which was administered by American Eurocopter, Grand Prairie, Texas. The pilot was issued a flight instructor certificate for rotorcraft-helicopter on September 18, 2000. There were no restrictions or limitations listed on the pilot's FAA second class medical certificate issued on October 17, 2000. On the application for this medical certificate, the pilot reported having accumulated a total of 5,000 flight hours, of which 350 hours were in the previous six months. The pilot also held an airframe and powerplant mechanic certificate.

A review of the pilot's flight logbook revealed that on June 11, 2000, he completed a biennial flight review in a Cessna 172 airplane, and on August 10, 2000, he completed an instrument proficiency flight in a Hughes 369HS helicopter. The logbook also revealed that as of September 14, 2000, the pilot had logged a total flight time of 5,241.3 hours, of which 4,674.3 hours were in helicopters and 232.9 hours were logged in the same make and model as the accident helicopter. The pilot had also logged 279.3 hours in night conditions, 165.4 hours in simulated instrument conditions, and 45.0 hours of actual instrument conditions.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The 1996-model Eurocopter AS350B2 helicopter (S/N 2944) had a three-bladed main rotor system, a two-bladed tail rotor, and was powered by a Turbomeca Arriel 1D1 turboshaft engine (S/N 9447), rated at 732-horsepower.

A review of the maintenance records revealed that the helicopter's engine (2,870.9 hours total time since new) was removed for overhaul on November 18, 1999, and another engine (S/N 9665) was installed. The helicopter underwent its most recent annual inspection on December 4, 1999, at a total aircraft time of 2,903.6 hours. On February 14, 2000, the original engine (S/N 9447) was reinstalled in the helicopter at 3,125.2 hours total aircraft time. The last 100-hour inspection was completed on November 4, 2000, at a total aircraft time of 3,973.9 hours and an engine total time of 3,719.6 hours. The following maintenance was also completed on November 4, 2000: landing light replaced; the aft baggage door hinge attachment repaired; hydraulic and air conditioner drive belts replaced; main rotor fore and aft hydraulic servo, main rotor lateral hydraulic servo, and tail rotor control hydraulic servo replaced with overhauled servos. Additionally the following Airworthiness Directives (ADs) were complied with: AD 98-24-35, separation of spherical bearings; AD 2000-10-10, failure of cross beam; and AD 86-15-10(R1), inspection of main rotor star arms and main gearbox suspension bar as per Eurocopter Service Bulletin 01-17A.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

At 2153, the weather observation facility at HOU, located 9 miles southeast of the accident site, reported wind 010 degrees at 10 knots, visibility 8 statute miles, ceiling broken at 1,100 feet, overcast sky at 2,300 feet, temperature 17 degrees C, dew point temperature 16 degrees C, and altimeter 30.00 inches of mercury.

At 2211, HOU reported wind 020 degrees at 10 knots, visibility 8 statute miles, ceiling broken at 1,100 feet, overcast sky at 2,300 feet, temperature 17 degrees C, dew point temperature 15 degrees C, and altimeter 29.99 inches of mercury.

At 2153, the weather observation facility at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), located 15 miles north-northeast of the accident site, reported wind 350 degrees at 6 knots, visibility 1/2 statute mile in mist, ceiling overcast at 300 feet, temperature 14 degrees C, dew point temperature 13 degrees C, and altimeter 30.02 inches of mercury.

At 2153, the weather observation facility at DWH, located 20 miles north-northwest of the accident site, reported wind variable at 5 knots, visibility 3 statute miles in mist, ceiling overcast at 400 feet, temperature 13 degrees C, dew point temperature 12 degrees C, and altimeter 30.01 inches of mercury.

At 2204, DWH reported wind variable at 5 knots, visibility 3 statute miles in mist, ceiling overcast at 200 feet, temperature 12 degrees C, dew point temperature 12 degrees C, and altimeter 30.02 inches of Mercury.

At 2200, the Channel 2 remote weather sensor at the Lamar High School, located on Westheimer Road about a quarter mile west of the accident site, reported a temperature of 63 degrees F, a dew point temperature of 63 degrees F, and a relative humidity of 100 percent with no rain.

Witnesses estimated that at the time of the accident, there was an overcast ceiling of about 300-400 feet.

No record was found of any preflight weather briefing obtained by the pilot.

WRECKAGE IMPACT INFORMATION

The accident site location was on the south side of a hair salon at the northeast corner of Bammel Lane and Earl Street, in the River Oaks section of Houston. An above ground gas meter located next to this building was ruptured resulting in a natural gas leak. Power lines that ran parallel to Bammel Lane were down; however, the wires were repaired prior to the arrival of the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC) . A utility/light pole on Earl Street next to the hair salon had three pieces separated from it. Two pieces were found in a garden area on the east side of the hair salon, and the top piece was found in the street next to the aircraft wreckage. The wreckage distribution continued east along Earl Street for 150 feet beyond the main wreckage. Pieces of the main rotor blades were found on the street and in the building across the street from the main wreckage. A main rotor blade weight traveled through this building and struck the building on the other side.

The helicopter's cabin floor, instrument panel and aft fuselage were consumed by the fire. The fuel flow control lever was found in the flight position, the rotor brake application lever was in the "off" or not applied position, and the emergency fuel shut-off lever was in the open position. Both the fore and aft landing gear cross-tubes were separated at the point where they attach to the airframe. Both skid tubes were separated forward of the front cross-tube attachment point. Flight control continuity could not be established due to the impact and fire damage.

The engine remained attached to the engine deck, and was damaged by the fire. Engine rotation could not be confirmed due to molten metal in the axial compressor inlet. All electrical lines were burnt, and the external components displayed various stages of melting.

The main rotor gearbox was laying horizontally next to a retaining wall. The transmission support platform was consumed by fire. The main gearbox input shaft was separated just aft of the input pinion. All three main rotor blades were attached to the sleeves at the root by both blade retention pins. The fibers of the main rotor head sleeves were thermally damaged, and the star-flex arms were broken and ground down to the central part of the star-flex. One of the main rotor blades came to rest against the utility pole. The blade tip had fanning of the internal rovings. The trailing edge and skin were consumed by fire, and the stainless steel leading edge was separated from the blade.

The tail boom forward of the tail rotor gearbox to the fuselage junction, tail rotor drive shaft, control tube and horizontal stabilizer were all consumed by fire. Power transmission lines were entangled in the aft most portion of the tail section, consisting of the vertical fin and tail rotor. The tail skid was separated from the lower vertical fin. The lower vertical fin was displaced 90 degrees to the right and one blade of the tail rotor was embedded in the fin. The opposite blade of the tail rotor had fire damage.

The intermediate drive shaft was separated from the engine and the tail rotor drive shaft. The forward end was separated with 45 degree fracture surfaces, and it had rotational scratches around the shaft tube.

The engine was removed from the wreckage and transported to the Turbomeca facility in Grand Prairie, Texas, for further examination. The helicopter wreckage was moved to Air Salvage of Dallas, Lancaster, Texas.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

On August 21, 2000, the Office of the Medical Examiner of Harris County in Houston, Texas, performed an autopsy of the pilot. There was no evidence found of any preexisting disease that could have contributed to the accident.

Toxicological testing was performed by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute's (CAMI) Forensic Toxicology and Accident Research Center at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The toxicological tests were negative for alcohol, cyanide, carbon monoxide, and drugs.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

An examination of the Arriel 1D1 turboshaft engine (S/N 9447) was conducted at the Turbomeca facility on April 18, 2001, under the supervision of the NTSB IIC. The engine external surfaces and components displayed thermal damage and corrosion. As the modules were separated, drive train continuity was established throughout each module. Examination of the oil filter revealed no visible particles, and evidence of oil lubrication was present in each module. Disassembly of the rear bearing and labyrinth seals revealed no anomalies. Rotational scoring was observed at the air inlet, the compressor rotors, 1st and 2nd stage turbines, free turbine, and the reduction gearbox. Ashes and debris were found throughout the air path of the engine.

ADDITIONAL DATA

The helicopter wreckage was released to the owner's representative on May 4, 2001.

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