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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: U.S. Border Patrol Pilot Dies in AS350 Crash


A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Eurocopter AS350B3 crashed May 22 in Texas during a routine patrol of the Mexican border, killing the pilot. Robert Smith was a 16-year veteran with the agency’s Air Operations unit. A Border Patrol observer on the flight, Steven Takacs, was critically injured. Federal officials are investigating the crash.

According to preliminary information from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the single-engine turbine crashed at 0838 local time after a loss of control while maneuvering about 1.8 hr. into a routine border-patrol mission near San Elizario, Texas, about 13 miles southeast of the El Paso International Airport. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan was filed for the local, public-use flight, which had departed El Paso International Airport (KELP), near El Paso, Texas.

The NTSB has torn down and is examining the engine, transmission, flight control hydraulic servos, and other drivetrain components. Investigators interviewed several witnesses, most of whom concluded the helicopter "appeared to dip the nose down and enter a spin to the right nearly straight down. One witness said the helicopter appeared to have recovered from the spin and initiated a climb before it began to spin to the right again and hit the ground near vertical. Other witnesses added that the engine appeared to be "screaming."

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