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N8311A accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Toano, VA
37.379869°N, 76.804128°W

Tail number N8311A
Accident date 08 May 1995
Aircraft type Robinson R-22 Beta
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On May 8, 1995, at 2130 eastern daylight time, a Robinson R- 22 Beta, N8311A, was substantially damaged during a water landing in Toano, Virginia. The private pilot received fatal injuries and the passenger received minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, for the personal flight that originated in Toano, Virginia. No flight plan had been filed for the flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

During an interview with the passenger, who was also the pilot's wife, she stated that they departed from their boat-port- roof helipad, about 1900. During the flight, they landed at an airport in Newport News, Virginia, and refueled. When they departed this airport, they flew to a restaurant in Toano, and landed in the rear parking lot.

About 2125, they departed from the restaurant parking lot for the 1 mile flight home. The passenger stated that the pilot slowed the helicopter, as he usually did, on final approach to the helipad. He brought the helicopter to a hover over the water and started to descend downward. At one point, the passenger made a comment to her husband, "I think we are too close to the water."

The passenger further stated that her husband tried to pull up or back, when she heard the "tail rotor contact the water," followed by the helicopter settling into the water. The pilot shut off switches, and they both exited from the right side of the helicopter. The passenger stated that she heard no abnormal noises, nor observed any lights illuminated on the panel, prior to contact with the water.

After the helicopter sank, the pilot and passenger started to swim to shore. A boat rescued the passenger; however, the pilot's body was not recovered until May 12, 1995. The passenger stated that it was a very dark night, and the cove was like a dark cave.

A witness on shore, about 200 feet from the pilot's boat port, stated that he was standing on his dock about 2130, and observed the helicopter on approach to the helipad. The helicopter landing light was on, and moving back and forth. The helicopter seemed to stop at a hover about tree top height, 500 feet from the helipad, over the water. The helicopter stayed there for a few seconds, then started a slow descent toward the water. The helicopter contacted the water and appeared to roll to the helicopter's left. The witness heard the rotor blades contact the water. He stated that this was a dark night with very little reflection on the water.

The accident occurred during the hours of darkness about 37 degrees, 18 minutes north latitude, and 76 degrees, 50 minutes west longitude.


Mr. David A. Hawley held a Private Pilot Certificate with a rating for rotorcraft-helicopter. The rating was issued on September 9, 1994. He was not instrument rated.

His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Third Class Medical Certificate was issued on January 28, 1994.

Mr. Hawley's pilot log book was not located. A flight instructor estimated that Mr. Hawley had accumulated about 150 hours of helicopter experience, all in the Robinson R-22. About 15 hours of his total flight time was at night.


Mr. Hawley purchased the helicopter on April 13, 1995. Records indicated that no maintenance had been performed on the helicopter, since it was purchased.


Mr. Hawley had kept the helicopter on the roof of his boat- port, in Toano.

The roof of the boat-port was supported by dock pilings. It was elevated about 15 feet above the water, and measured approximately 30 feet long (towards shore), by 20 feet wide. The lighting for the helipad was a single flood light, aimed under the helipad at a jet-ski.

The center of the helipad was approximately 75 feet from the shore line. Ground elevation, 200 feet inland from the shore line, rose about 50 feet above the water level. The land in both directions along the shore line, and inland, was forested with 75 foot high trees. The houses along the shore line were recessed into the forest.

The helipad had not been inspected or approved by any government agency, nor was it required to be.


The wreckage was located near the center of the James River. It was submerged upright in approximately 20 feet of water, about 500 feet from the pilot's boat port helipad. The wreckage was floated and removed from the water on May 10, 1995. The helicopter was examined on May 10 and 11, 1995. The examination revealed that all components of the helicopter were accounted for at the scene.

The main fuselage, skids, windshield, tail boom, tail rotor assembly, and the main rotor mast and hub were intact and undamaged. The main rotor blades displayed a slight upward bowing. No chord wise scratches were visible on the upper and lower sides of the main rotor blades, and there was no damage to the leading or trailing edges of the blades.

Control continuity was established from the pilot's cyclic and collective controls to the main rotor system, and from the pilot's anti-torque pedals to the tail rotor.

Drive train continuity was established from the transmission to the main rotor and the tail rotor drive shafts. The tail rotor drive shaft was sheared at the tail rotor gear box coupling.

Engine clutch and freewheeling were confirmed. The engine was rotated by hand and valve train continuity, compression, and magneto gear rotation were confirmed. The magnetos were removed, disassembled, and dried. When the magnetos were rotated by hand, spark was observed from all spark lead connections. Examination of the fuel and oil screens revealed that they were absent of debris. The gascolator contained fuel and water. The clutch worm gear for the belt engagement measured approximately 1.2 inches.


An autopsy was performed on Mr. David A. Hawley on May 12, 1995, by Dr. Ralph R. DiMattia, of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Richmond, Virginia. The results indicated that the pilot died as a result of drowning.

The toxicological testing report, from the FAA toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was negative for drugs and alcohol for Mr. David Hawley.


FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 150/5390-2A, discussed the recommended lighting for private heliports. The AC stated:

...When night operations are intended and ambient lighting is inadequate, it is recommended that the perimeter of the Final Approach and Takeoff Area (FATO) defined with yellow lights. Alternatively, floodlights may be used to illuminate the heliport's FATO...At least three uniformly spaced lights are recommended per side of a square or rectangular FATO...with a light located at each corner....When floodlighting is used...[they] should be aimed down so as not to interfere with pilot vision and provide a minimum of 3 foot candles of illumination over the FATO...

According to the Airmen's Information Manual, under Illusions In Flight, it stated: Featureless terrain illusion: An absence of ground features, as when landing over water, darkened areas...can create the illusion that the aircraft is at a higher altitude than it actually is. The pilot who does not recognize this illusion will fly a lower approach.

A flight instructor who had instructed the pilot in helicopters, flew over the boat roof helipad during the evening of May 10, 1995. The flight instructor stated that the area was very dark, and he would only recommend that type of night landing to a very experienced pilot.

The helicopter wreckage was released on May 11, 1995, to David A. Gibbs, a friend of the owner's family.

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