Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bell 407, Med-Trans Corporation, N445MT: Accident occurred January 02, 2013 in Clear Lake, Iowa

NTSB Identification: CEN13FA122
14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Wednesday, January 02, 2013 in Clear Lake, IA
Aircraft: Bell Helicopter 407, registration: N445MT
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 January 2, 2013, about 2057 central standard time, a Bell Helicopter model 407, N445MT, impacted terrain near Clear Lake, Iowa. The pilot and two medical crew members sustained fatal injuries. The helicopter was destroyed. The helicopter was registered to Suntrust Equipment Leasing & Finance Corporation and operated by Med-Trans Corporation under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 as a positioning flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which was operated on a company flight plan. A flight plan was not filed with the Federal Aviation Administration. The flight originated from the Mercy Medical Center, Mason City, Iowa, about 2049, with an intended destination of the Palo Alto County Hospital, (IA76), Emmetsburg, Iowa.

A witness located about 1 mile south of the accident site, reported observing the helicopter as it approached from the east. He noted that it appeared to slow and then turn to the north. When he looked again, the helicopter appeared to descend straight down. He subsequently went back into his house and called 911. He described the weather conditions as “misty,” with a light wind.

A second witness reported that he was working in his garage when he heard the helicopter. He stated that the sound of the helicopter changed as if it was turning, followed by what he described as a “thump” and then everything was quiet. He subsequently responded to the accident with the Ventura Fire Department. He reported that there was a coating of ice on his truck windshield that the wipers would not clear. He decided to drive another car to the fire station because it had been parked in the garage. While responding to the accident site with the fire department, as the fire truck he was on was waiting to cross Highway 18, they observed a Clear Lake police car, also responding to the accident, slide through the intersection. They informed dispatch to advise following units to expect slick road conditions. He noted that there was a haze in the air, which was evident when looking toward a street light; however, he did not recall any precipitation at the time.

A pilot located at the Mason City airport reported that he saw the helicopter fly overhead and estimated its altitude as 300 feet above ground level (agl). He was leaving the airport at that time and noted there was a glaze of ice on his car. He added that the roads were icy as he drove out of the airport and onto Highway 18. He commented that he had flown into Mason City about 1830 and encountered some light rime ice at that time.

Satellite tracking data depicted the helicopter becoming airborne at the medical center about 2049. According to the data, between 2050 and 2055, the helicopter proceeded westbound along Highway 18 about 1,800 feet mean sea level (msl). The final tracking data point was recorded about 2056 and was located approximately 1 mile north of Highway 18, along Balsam Avenue. The altitude associated with that data point was 2,648 feet msl. The accident site was located about one-quarter mile west of the final data point.

The helicopter impacted a harvested agricultural field. The debris path was about 100 feet long and oriented toward the west-southwest. The helicopter was fragmented, and the cockpit and cabin areas were compromised. The main wreckage consisted of the main rotor blades, transmission, engine, portions of the fuselage, and the tail boom. The tail rotor had separated from the tail boom and was located about 80 feet east-northeast of the main wreckage. The landing skids had separated from the fuselage. The left skid was located at the initial impact point; the right skid was located about 35 feet west of the main wreckage.

The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with helicopter and single-engine airplane ratings. His airplane rating was limited to private pilot privileges. He was issued a second class airman medical certificate on April 17, 2012, with a limitation for corrective lenses. His most recent regulatory checkride was completed on September 29, 2012, about the time of his initial employment with the operator. At that time, he reported having accumulated a total flight time of 2,808 hours, with 2,720 hours in helicopters.

Weather conditions recorded at the Mason City Municipal Airport, located about 7 miles east of the accident site, at 2053, were: wind from 300 degrees at 8 knots; 8 miles visibility; broken clouds at 1,700 feet agl, overcast clouds at 3,300 feet agl, temperature -3 degrees Celsius, dew point -5 degrees Celsius, altimeter 30.05 inches of mercury. At 2117, the recorded conditions included broken clouds at 1,300 feet agl and overcast clouds at 1,800 feet agl.

Researchers Give Pilots Sight in Storms 

IOWA CITY, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- Last January, a medical helicopter flying from Mason City to Emmettsburg crashed in a field, killing all three of the people on board; the pilot reported encountering ice and snow just before that crash. 

 Now, researchers at the University of Iowa and engineers at Rockwell Collins are working on new technology to keep pilots and crew safe in those kinds of low visibility situations. 

"Flight in degraded visual environments is dangerous. It's dangerous when you do it close to the ground, and the technologies that are available now from fusing different sensor sources together really makes that much safer," said associate professor of Industrial Engineering Thomas "Mach" Schnell.

Schnell runs the Operator Performance Lab at the Iowa City Municipal Airport, where he and his team have built a lab around the idea of avoiding obstacles, because in a helicopter, one wire or target can be deadly. 

"Every river has a wire, every valley has a wire," Schnell said. 

Those wires are hard enough to see from the sky, but a pilot might as well be blind when the conditions get rough, like dense fog, thick smoke, or heavy rain. Schnell's goal is to give pilots back their sight. 

The lab is combining different kinds of laser and infrared scanners that can shoot through snow or dust and feed back to the pilot something better than what the human eye, or even a single sensor, can see. "And so by fusing the data together, the hope is that we can produce a product that can allow the pilot to observe his environment much better and avoid any obstacles," Schnell said. 

Those extra eyes are especially important for military pilots who might have to land in a cloud of dust to rescue someone. Those kinds of crashes cost the United States Military $100 million every year. "If something goes wrong and the helicopter loses visibility to the ground, flipping, crashing -- maybe the occupants walk away from it -- but now, you have to start bringing in additional assets. 

Pretty soon, you have an escalation of the problem, drawing more attention to the problem," Schnell said. "Those accidents are happening every year," said Rockwell Collins senior director of Rotary Wing Solutions Boe Svatek. "And will continue to happen until solutions like this are brought to bear." Rockwell Collins will eventually create the product that the U.S. Army plans to start using in 2017.

 "The fact that we're going to save lives and prevent injury is certainly really compelling to be a part of these projects," Svatek said.

Svatek has spent more than a decade building on the research that has led up to this point. While the project has the chance to save the federal government billions of dollars in prevented crashes, there is no price tag for the human lives that will be saved, he said. 

 "I have a very vested interest in keeping my friends and relatives safe by using these technologies," Svatek said. And those technologies have the chance to keep everyone's friends and families safe, too. Schnell said EMS pilots could feasibly start using the sensors at the same time the military does. 

"If you take the concept of having to rescue someone, at night, in bad weather, you can see how landing a helicopter in an unknown, austere environment can be a hazardous thing," Schnell said. 

 And as long as their blades keep spinning, these scientists will keep figuring out how the make the world safer. "Any time you lose a vehicle with someone who was supposed to get rescued, nurses and doctors on board, it's a tragic loss and we need to avoid it," Schnell said.