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N9643F accident description

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Crash location 39.783611°N, 104.535000°W
Reported location is a long distance from the NTSB's reported nearest city. This often means that the location has a typo, or is incorrect.
Nearest city Watkins, CO
39.745264°N, 104.607467°W
4.7 miles away

Tail number N9643F
Accident date 28 May 2003
Aircraft type Hughes 269C
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On May 28, 2003, approximately 0905 mountain daylight time, a Hughes 269C helicopter, N9643F, owned and operated by Highlander Helicopter Leasing, was destroyed when it impacted terrain during landing at Front Range Airport, Watkins, Colorado. The commercial certificated flight instructor was fatally injured, and the private pilot receiving instruction was seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. No flight plan had been filed for the local instructional flight being conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated approximately 0850.

According to several witnesses, the helicopter had been flying in a left-hand traffic pattern, practicing autorotations on taxiway Charlie. The helicopter had flown the pattern approximately five times, and each time the helicopter descended in a nose-down attitude, leveled off and hovered, "sometimes rising slightly." Another witness, who was working on an oil derrick located approximately 1/4-mile south of taxiway Charlie, saw the accident. He said the "helicopter descended in a nose-down attitude, but it did not appear to level off." From his perspective, it "appeared to strike the ground with its right skid." He said he saw a cloud of dust and saw the helicopter start spinning around rapidly. It struck the ground, rolled over on its right side, and came to rest between taxiways Charlie and Bravo.

According to the Front Range Airport Authority, they received the first report of a helicopter accident at 0911. The receptionist called 9-1-1 at 0913 and, based on reports from personnel on site, an air ambulance was requested. An AirLife helicopter arrived at 0923, and departed with the injured pilot at 0945. The fire department was summoned at 0926, arrived on scene at 0928, and returned to service at 1015.


The pilot-in-command held a commercial pilot certificate with rotorcraft-helicopter and instrument-helicopter ratings. He also held a flight instructor certificate with a rotorcraft-helicopter rating, and private pilot privileges in single-engine land airplanes. His second class airman medical certificate, dated April 1, 2003, contained the limitation, "Must wear corrective lenses." A waiver, based on a Statement of Demonstrated Ability, required that he "must wear corrective lenses for distant vision and possess glasses for near vision," due to "defective distant vision poorer than 20/200 corrected to 20/20 bilaterally." His two logbooks were made available for inspection. The first logbook contained entries from February 2, 1998, to May 21, 1998. The second logbook contained entries from December 30, 1991, to January 23, 2003. As of that date, he had logged the following flight time (in hours):

Total time, 1,116.6 Pilot-in-Command, 992.7 Instruction Received, 123.8 Instruction Given, 401.0 Actual Instruments, 0.7 Simulated Instruments, 38.2 Night, 67.2 Airplane single-engine land, 120.8 Cessna 152, 1.9 Cessna 172, 15.4 Piper PA-28, 4.5 Piper PA-38, 73.5 Simulator, 12.4 Rotorcraft-helicopter, 983.4 Enstrom F-28, 257.0 Bell 206, 112.6 Schweizer 269C, 569.4 Robinson R22, 64.0 Rotorway 162F, 1.5 H300, 0.8 Flight instructor, 401.0

The pilot receiving instruction held a private pilot certificate, dated April 4, 2003, with a rotorcraft-helicopter rating. His practical test was done in a Robinson R22. At the conclusion of the check ride, the designated examiner wrote in his logbook, "Strive for perfection on every flight. DON'T BE SLOPPY. Nail the numbers." His first class airman medical certificate, dated October 22, 2002, contained no limitations or restrictions. His flight logbook contained entries from November 1, 2002, to May 27, 2003. As of that date, he had logged the following flight time (in hours):

Total time, 80.3 Rotorcraft-helicopter: 80.9 Hughes 269C, 7.3 Robinson R22, 73.0 Instruction Received, 74.4 Pilot-in-Command, 13.8 Solo, 5.1 Night, 3.1

According to the helicopter daily log sheet, the accident flight started at a Hobbs meter reading of 370.8 hours. The Hobbs meter read 371.1 hours at the accident site, a difference of 0.3 hours.


Hughes Helicopters, Inc., manufactured N9643F, a model 269C (s/n 1200076), in 1972. It was equipped with a Lycoming HIO-360-B1A engine (s/n L-7626-51A).

According to the helicopter maintenance records, the last annual inspection was performed on February 25, 2003, at a tachometer time of 194.9 hours, and an airframe total time of 869.8 hours. The last100-hour inspection was performed on April 23, 2003, at a tachometer time of 303.4 hours, and an airframe total time of 978.3 hours. Total airframe time was 1,041 hours.


At 0853, the Denver International Airport METAR (routine aviation meteorological report) was as follows: Wind, 270 degrees at 8 knots; visibility 10 statute miles (or greater); few clouds at 7,500 feet; temperature, 18 degrees Celsius; dew point, 14 degrees Celsius; altimeter setting, 30.43 inches of mercury.


Taxiways Bravo and Charlie are adjacent to each other. Both are 2,000 feet long and 50 feet wide, oriented in an east/west direction. The helicopter was located between the two taxiways, and 680 feet west of the east end of the Taxiway Charlie. It lay on its right side, facing east-northeast.

The front portion of the right skid was broken and bent aft mid-span between the cross tube and the skid leg. The left skid was not damaged. The canopy was fragmented, and the frame had separated from the airframe. The tail rotor drive shaft was sheared in torsion. The tail boom was crushed inward midspan on the left side. The vertical stabilizer was crushed aft on the upper portion of the airfoil. The tailskid showed scraping marks on the bottom rear portion. The main rotor blades were arbitrarily labeled for identification purposes. Rotor blade "A" was 47 feet southeast, and rotor blade "B" was 6 inches north, of the wreckage. Rotor blade "C" remained attached to the rotor hub. It was bent down and aft behind the right side of the aircraft. It protruded through the upper rear portion of the cockpit on the right side. The tail rotor gearbox was separated from the tail boom and was located 40 feet east of rotor blade "A." The shattered tail rotor was separated from the gearbox and was located 53 feet south of the gearbox, on the south side of Taxiway Charlie. The composite tail rotor was shattered.

Examination of the cockpit instruments revealed the following indications and settings: airspeed, 25 mph; altimeter, 5,020 feet, 1031 Mb; oil pressure, 125 degrees; oil pressure, 0 psi; ammeter, 0 amps; magnetos, both; transponder, 1200, on; battery/alternator, on; rotating beacon, on; fuel boost, off; mixture, full rich; clock, 1:17 (running).


An autopsy (AA03-209) was performed on the pilot by the Adams County Coroner's Office on May 29, 2003. FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, conducted a toxicological screen on specimens from the pilot. According to CAMI's report (#200300142001), no carbon monoxide or cyanide detected were detected in blood, no ethyl alcohol was detected in vitreous, and no drugs were detected in urine.

According to rehabilitation hospital medical personnel, the surviving pilot had no recollection of the events leading up to the accident. They said the prognosis of him recalling any details would be doubtful.


The engine was disassembled and inspected on August 27, 2003. No discrepancies were noted.


The wreckage was released to the insurance company representative on June 2, 2003.

(c) 2009-2018 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.