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Monday, September 20, 2010

Prelim on Fatal Arkansas HEMS Crash

NTSB investigators say the Air Evac Lifeteam Bell 206L-1 helicopter (N62AE) that crashed Aug. 31 near Walnut Grove, Arkansas broke up in flight.

The fatal accident raised the total for the year to six fatal Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) crashes taking 16 lives.

The crash occurred about 80 miles north of Little Rock, AR, about 4:30 a.m. Pilot Kenneth Robertson, flight nurse Kenneth Meyer and flight paramedic Gayla Gregory died in the accident. The helicopter crew was based in Vilonia, AR, and was flying to Crabtree, AR, to pick up a patient.

The FAA said the Bell 206 was flying under VFR conditions. It was registered to the EMS company based in West Plains, MO. The helicopter was not in contact with controllers at the time of the accident, and there was no distress call from the chopper. The crew was responding to a traffic accident when the helicopter went down.

The Safety Board's preliminary report on the fatal accident said several witnesses in the area reported that the sounds of the rotor blades were normal and then heard the sound of the rotor blades slow in speed. One witness reported seeing the helicopter circle above his home. Another witness reported hearing an "explosion" and shortly thereafter the sound of crushing or crashing metal and "tin." Another witness reported hearing an increase in the engine sound before hearing the helicopter impact the ground.

A preliminary review of FAA radar data depicts the helicopter flying from the southeast to the northwest. The helicopter initiated a turn to the left and then a turn to the right, and then the radar target disappeared.

The helicopter was found separated into three main pieces: the main rotor assembly, the fuselage, and the tail boom. The main rotor assembly was located approximately 700 feet to the northwest of the main wreckage. The tail rotor came to rest 100 feet to the south of the main wreckage. The furthest component located was a Plexiglas chin-bubble located 0.5 miles to the north.

The main wreckage consisted of the fuselage, cabin area, and instrument panel and exhibited extensive fire and impact damage. The tail boom included the horizontal and vertical stabilizers and tail rotor and exhibited impact damage. The main rotor consisted of both blades and the main rotor yoke and there was damage exhibited to both blades.

The U.S. HEMS industry may be facing another troubling year, as the number of fatal accidents is again on the rise after scoring a remarkably safe year in 2009. For the HEMS industry, 2008 was the deadliest year on record with eight fatal accidents totaling 29 fatalities, earning the sector a spot on the NTSB's Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. But in the following year, there was only one fatal HEMS accident. On Sept. 25, a Eurocopter AS-350 B2 (N417AE) helicopter EMS (HEMS) crashed near Georgetown, SC.

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