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N3156U accident description

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Crash location 33.037777°N, 107.308333°W
Nearest city Caballo, NM
32.975627°N, 107.307803°W
4.3 miles away
Tail number N3156U
Accident date 31 Aug 2013
Aircraft type Robinson R44 Ii
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On August 31, 2013, about 1145 mountain daylight time, a Robinson R44 II, N3156U, collided with power lines and crashed next to a residence in Caballo, New Mexico 87931. The pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. The helicopter was substantially damaged. The helicopter was registered to and operated by a private individual under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, and no flight plan had been filed. The flight originated from Truth or Consequences (TCS) Airport, New Mexico, about 1130.

According to the operator, the pilot was taking the two passengers on a short sightseeing flight over Elephant Butte Reservoir. They also plan to fly over the home of one of the passengers. Two witnesses who lived across the street saw the helicopter hovering in front of the passenger's home. They said dust was being stirred up by the rotor wash. The helicopter turned and started to fly away but collided with two service power lines. Another witness, who lived next door to the two previous witnesses, saw the helicopter fly underneath and collide with the power lines, severing the tail boom. The helicopter struck the ground and bounced. Another witness saw the helicopter flying "extremely low." He said the helicopter cleared the power lines, circled back, and then the tail boom struck the power lines. The impact pulled two power poles out of the ground and the helicopter hit the ground and bounced.


The pilot, age 34, held a commercial pilot certificate with rotorcraft-helicopter and instrument-helicopter ratings. He also held a flight instructor certificate with rotorcraft-helicopter and instrument-helicopter ratings. His second class airman medical certificate, dated May 1, 2013, contained no restrictions or limitations.

According to the operator, the pilot had accrued 1,153 total flight hours, all in rotorcraft-helicopters, of which 1,090 hours were as pilot-in-command and 85.7 hours were flown in a Robinson R44.


N3156U, serial number 11486, a model R44 II Raven, was manufactured by the Robinson Helicopter Company in 2006. It was powered by a Textron-Lycoming IO-540-AE1A5 engine (serial number L-31554-48A), rated at 235 shaft horsepower.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector who examined the aircraft maintenance records, the last annual inspection was accomplished on July 26, 2013, at a Hobbs meter time of 708.6 hours. At the time of the accident, the Hobbs meter read 728.6 hours.


The following pertinent weather observations were recorded by the TCS Automated Surface Observing Systems (ASOS), located about 14 miles north of the accident site:

TCS (1053): Variable wind at 3 knots; sky condition, clear; temperature, 20 degrees Celsius (C.); dew point, 13 degrees C; altimeter setting, 30.15 inches of mercury.

TCS (1153): Wind, 090 degrees at 5 knots; sky condition, clear; temperature, 30 degrees C.; dew point, 10 degrees C; altimeter setting, 30.13 inches of mercury.


The wreckage was located in a field, south of a private residence, and on the east side of State Route 187 at mile post 31.

The helicopter rested on its right side. One main rotor blade remained attached to the hub. The other rotor blade was found in several pieces. The tail boom had been severed from the fuselage, and the tail rotor assembly was separated from the tail boom. The front of the cockpit was open, exposing the instrument panel and seats. Power train and flight control continuity were established. Two broken power poles, one holding a power transformer, lay nearby. Two downed power lines, uncoiled in some places, were also noted.


According to FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) toxicology report, no carbon monoxide, ethanol, or drugs were detected in the pilot's blood. Cyanide tests were not performed. According to the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator autopsy report, the pilot's death was attributed to "blunt trauma."


According to a Sierra Electric Cooperative Power Company spokesman, two single phase lines were struck by the helicopter, and the impact broke two wooden power poles. He described the lines as being No. 4 ACSR (aluminum conduit, steel reinforced) 7/1 power lines that each carried 14,400 volts. He further stated that the power company did not have monitoring devices to detect power interruptions, but they received the first service call at 1209. FAA's Southwest Regional Operations Center received the accident call at 1153.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot’s failure to see and avoid power lines while maneuvering near the ground because dust stirred up by the rotor wash obscured his visibility.

© 2009-2020 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.