Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Monday, December 10, 2012 in Compton, IL
Aircraft: MBB BK 117 A-3, registration: N911BK
Injuries: 3 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. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
On December 10, 2012, about 2016 central standard time, a Messerschmitt Bolkow-Blohm model BK 117-A3 helicopter, N911BK, impacted the ground near Compton, Illinois. The pilot, flight nurse, and flight paramedic were fatally injured, and the helicopter sustained substantial damage from impact forces. The emergency medical services (EMS) equipped helicopter was registered to Rockford Memorial Hospital, and operated by Air Methods Corporation under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a positioning flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated on a company visual flight rules flight plan. The flight originated from the Rockford Memorial Hospital Heliport (LL83), Rockford, Illinois, about 1958 and was en route to the Mendota Community Hospital Heliport (14IL), Mendota, Illinois, where it was to pick up a patient for transport back to the Rockford Memorial Hospital.
The purpose of the accident leg of the flight was to position the helicopter for a subsequent air medical inter-facility patient transport flight from the Mendota Community Hospital to the Rockford Memorial Hospital. The request was received by the Rockford Memorial Hospital Dispatch Center and the pilot was notified at 1927. At 1959, the pilot reported to the dispatch center that he was departing from the helicopter’s base at the hospital. He reported that he lifted off with one hour forty-five minutes of fuel and three persons on board and was en route to Mendota, Illinois. At 2010, the pilot radioed that he was 12 minutes from Mendota. at 2016, the pilot contacted the dispatch center notifying that he was aborting the flight due to the weather conditions encountered. No further communications were received from the helicopter.
At 2015, the surface weather observation at the Rochelle Municipal Airport-Koritz Field (KRPJ), Rochelle, Illinois, located about 10 miles north of the accident site, was: wind 290 degrees at 8 knots, 7 miles visibility, light snow, overcast ceiling at 3,300 feet above ground level, temperature -1 degree Celsius, dew point -2 degrees Celsius, altimeter 29.94 inches of Mercury.
ROCKFORD - There are about 400-thousand patients transported each year by the staff that operates emergency medical helicopters, an expanding service that is regarded by many as one of the most high-risk jobs on the planet.
Local helicopter pilot Bob Hess has been flying helicopters since 1970. He started flying in the military and now flies for Air One, a volunteer group that assists police agencies throughout the Stateline.
He's even flown REACT helicopter that crashed late Monday night, a 25-year old aircraft.
"It's built like a tank," said Hess. "It's a very sound and reliable aircraft."
Since air ambulances respond to emergencies, there's no way to know what conditions will be like until pilots survey the sky.
"[We fly] at night and sometimes in poor weather, although we have limitations as to what we can go out in," said Hess. Sometimes encountering freezing conditions, like what was possible for the REACT crew.
"I had that happen to me once in a hover, and I could barely hold onto the controls," said Hess.
Luckily for Hess he was only a few feet off the ground and was able to land. But if ice does build up on the aircraft while it's up in the air, it can throw off the airfoil needed to fly causing the helicopter to quickly loose altitude.
"The air is coming down through the rotor system, top to bottom, that's what gives you lift and thrust," said Hess.
Most helicopters have limited de-icing equipment. On one of helicopters used by Air One, just like on REACT, there are two components that have de-icing equipment. One of the instruments is in front of the engine to ensure that air continues to flow over and into the engine; the second is up in front of the aircraft on the air intake instrument that allows the helicopter to monitor its airspeed.
"Very few and only very expensive aircraft, helicopters, have de-icing on the rotor blades and fuselage," said Hess.
Hess says that's because most of the helicopters being used are old and upgrades aren't cost effective. But they're used because they've become a lifeline and don't need those parts to fly.
"Would you rather have one that doesn't have the latest of everything on it, as oppose to nothing at all," said Hess.
Regardless of equipment or the type of helicopter REACT was, Hess thinks there's nothing that could have been done to save the aircraft once it had a catastrophic failure.
"I don't think the situation would have been any different, if I or anybody else was flying that aircraft," said Hess. "Whatever happened was fate, it just happened."
Air ambulances are mostly flown by one pilot and it's important to point out that they do not come equipped with black boxes, or flight data recorders that log the cock-pit chatter and instrument readings.
That means NTSB investigators will only be able to gather contributing factors to the crash largely from evidence recovered from the scene.
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IDENTIFICATION Regis#: 911BK Make/Model: BK11 Description: MBB BK117 Date: 12/11/2012 Time: 0320 Event Type: Accident Highest Injury: Fatal Mid Air: N Missing: N Damage: Destroyed LOCATION City: ROCHELLE State: IL Country: US DESCRIPTION N911BK MBB BK117 ROTORCRAFT CRASHED UNDER UNKNOWN CIRCUMSTANCES, THE 3 PERSONS ON BOARD WERE FATALLY INJURED, NEAR ROCHELLE, IL INJURY DATA Total Fatal: 3 # Crew: 3 Fat: 3 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk: # Pass: 0 Fat: 0 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk: # Grnd: Fat: 0 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk: OTHER DATA Activity: Unknown Phase: Unknown Operation: OTHER FAA FSDO: WEST CHICAGO, IL (GL03) Entry date: 12/11/2012