Monday, August 27, 2012

Bell 407, N407N: Accident occurred August 24, 2012 in Abingdon, Virginia

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA527
 14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, August 24, 2012 in Abingdon, VA
Aircraft: BELL 407, registration: N407N
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On August 24, 2012, about 2230 eastern daylight time, a Bell 407, N407N, crashed into South Holston Lake during a night departure from a river bank in Abingdon, Virginia. The airline transport pilot was fatally injured. The helicopter was substantially damaged when it impacted the water. The helicopter was registered to and operated by K-VA-T&W-L Aviation LLC under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, as a personal flight. Visual night meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The flight was originating at the time of the accident.

According to a witness in a boat, he watched the helicopter land with the landing light on and the passengers exit the helicopter. The helicopter then departed without the landing light on and turned toward the lake, descended down an embankment, and made a turn over the lake. The helicopter traveled approximately 150 yards when the bottom skids collided with the lake. The helicopter nosed over and made a loud splash. The witness waited for a short moment and then turned on his spot light and moved towards the position of the helicopter. As he moved forward, his boat collided with the tail boom which was floating away from the fuselage. He continued forward and the cabin area was floating upside down.

The helicopter was recovered from the lake and is pending further examination by the NTSB.

Photo by Mike Still 
Flags fly at half-mast at Virginia Highlands Airport in Abingdon, Virginia 

Divers continue their search Sunday in a cove of South Holston Lake for the body of the pilot of a Food City helicopter

By: Michael Owens | Bristol Herald Courier 

The search for missing helicopter pilot Bill Starnes has been a slow and methodical trek through a lake with currents running along two riverbeds and depths ranging from 20 feet to 80 feet.

At times, visibility under the murky waters of South Holston Lake stretches to about a foot. Much of the time, Virginia State Police diver Robert Hamilton said he can see next to nothing.

Once they found the helicopter cab mid-Saturday, divers began following a debris field mapped out with side-scan radar, helicopter flights over the site, and plenty of interviews with witnesses who spotted helicopter parts floating in the lake just moments after the crash.

“We couldn’t really do anything [for the recovery operation] until we located the aircraft,” he said of the recovery mission.

On Sunday, the search continued through the early evening with boats of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries seen circling around the spot of the crash.

Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board also were there over the weekend.

“They won’t have a preliminary report on a cause for about six months,” Virginia State Police Sgt. Michael. T. Conroy said.

Dive teams with the Virginia State Police and the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office plan to return to the lake around 7 a.m. today to continue the search, Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Gellar wrote in a press update.

The 1996 Bell407 crashed late Friday into a section of the lake bounded by the Washington County Park  in Virginia on one side and a marina and campgrounds inTennessee on the other.

The wreckage is on a river shelf 42 feet deep and will remain there throughout the recovery operation.

“It’s kind of like a car crash,” Hamilton said. “You want to get the people out and then you want to come in with the tow trucks.”

The helicopter cab will have to be removed from the lake by the company that owns it, state police said. A barge pushed a crane into the area Saturday afternoon and later moved away from the scene.

Hamilton, an officer based in Tazewell, Va., was among the first divers on the scene late Friday night. Then, it was a rescue mission, he said, with the search focused on where witnesses said they first spotted the wreckage, in the water with skids up.

It was around 10:30 p.m. when nearby campers jumped into their boats and crisscrossed the lake looking for survivors, said camper Lisa Hurst, of Carroll County, Va., with some of them holding aloft cell phones so the glare would shine on helicopter parts.

One boater spotted a duffel bag and a camouflage jacket floating in the water, she said.

The helicopter, partially owned by FoodCity’s parent company, K-VA-T Foods, had ferried people to and from Bristol Motor Speedway.

It had just dropped off six people when it crashed into the lake, which fronts a house owned by Steve Smith, FoodCity’s president and chief executive officer.

Bill Starnes, Food City’s chief pilot, was the only person on board at the time, state police report.

Boaters also picked up witnesses from Smith’s house so they could look for Starnes, too.

Hazel Presley, manager of Lakefront Family Campground, stood on the shore and watched the impromptu search effort.

“You could hear them screaming ‘Bill! Bill!’” she said.

Story and photo:
  Regis#: 407N        Make/Model: B407      Description: Bell 407
  Date: 08/25/2012     Time: 0220

  Event Type: Accident   Highest Injury: Fatal     Mid Air: N    Missing: N
  Damage: Substantial

  City: ABINGDON   State: VA   Country: US


INJURY DATA      Total Fatal:   1
                 # Crew:   1     Fat:   1     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   0
                 # Pass:   0     Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:    
                 # Grnd:         Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:    

  Activity: Unknown      Phase: Unknown      Operation: OTHER

  FAA FSDO: RICHMOND, VA  (EA21)                  Entry date: 08/27/2012 

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