Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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

NTSB Identification: CEN13FA122
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, January 02, 2013 in Clear Lake, IA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/12/2015
Aircraft: BELL HELICOPTER 407, registration: N445MT
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

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.

GPS tracking data revealed that, after departure, the helicopter proceeded westbound about 600 ft above ground level (agl), following a roadway. About 6 minutes after liftoff, when the helicopter was about 3/4 mile south of the accident site, it turned right and became established on a northerly course. The helicopter subsequently turned left and appeared to be on a southerly heading at the final data point. Shortly before beginning the left turn, the helicopter entered a climb, reached an altitude of about 1,800 ft agl, and then entered a descent that continued until impact. Weather observations from the nearest Automated Surface Observing System, located about 7 miles east of the accident site, indicated that the ceilings and visibility appeared to be adequate for nighttime helicopter operations and did not detect any freezing precipitation. Although an airmen’s meteorological information advisory for icing conditions was current for the route of flight, and several pilot reports of icing conditions had been filed, none of the reports were in the immediate vicinity of the intended route of flight. Witnesses and first responders reported mist, drizzle, and icy road conditions at the time of the accident. It is likely that the pilot inadvertently encountered localized icing conditions, which resulted in his subsequent in-flight loss of helicopter control. A postaccident examination of the helicopter revealed no preimpact failures or malfunctions. The engine control unit recorded engine torque, engine overspeed, and rotor overspeed events; however, due to their timing and nature, the events were likely a result of damage that occurred during the impact sequence. Evidence also indicated that the cyclic centering, engine overspeed, and hydraulic system warning lights illuminated; it is also likely that their illumination was associated with the impact sequence. Further, the engine anti-ice status light was illuminated, which was consistent with the activation of the anti-ice system at some point during the accident flight.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

The pilot’s inadvertent encounter with localized icing conditions and his subsequent in-flight loss of helicopter control.


On January 2, 2013, at 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 91 as a positioning flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which was operated on a company flight plan in accordance with Part 135 of the aviation regulations. 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 current 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 stations because it had been parked in the garage. He was on the third fire truck out of the station and as they were waiting to cross Highway 18 at Balsam Avenue, 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 Municipal Airport (MCW) 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 while flying through a cloud.

GPS tracking data depicted the helicopter at the medical center at 2049:44 (hhmm:ss). After liftoff, the helicopter proceeded westbound along Highway 18 about 1,800 feet mean sea level (msl). The helicopter passed just south of the Mason City airport at 2052:44. About 2056:09, the helicopter entered a right turn, becoming established on a northbound course about 10 seconds later. The helicopter simultaneously entered a climb, ultimately reaching approximately 2,995 feet msl at 2057:04. About one minute prior to reaching the apex of the climb, the helicopter entered a left turn, which continued until the helicopter was established on a southbound course. The final tracking data point was recorded at 2057:14. The final data point was located about 774 feet north of the accident site, with an associated altitude of 2,723 feet msl. The published field elevation of the Mason City airport was 1,214 feet.

The helicopter impacted a harvested agricultural field. The main wreckage came to rest along a line of trees and bushes separating the fields. The debris path was about 100 feet long and was oriented on a 246-degree magnetic bearing.

Full narrative:


VENTURA | A trial date has been set for a lawsuit involving the Mercy Air Med helicopter that crashed on Jan. 2, 2013, near Ventura killing three people.

The helicopter was carrying pilot Gene Grell, nurse Shelly Lair-Langenbau and paramedic Russ Piehl. They were on their way to pick up a patient in Emmetsburg when the helicopter crashed into a farm field.

Lair-Langenbau's husband, Jay Langenbau; two minor children; and her parents Gerald and Karen Lair, filed the lawsuit in Cerro Gordo County District Court in July 2013. It was moved to federal court the next month.

The defendant in the case is Med-Trans Corp., Lewisville, Texas, which operates the helicopter service under contract to Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa. The family is alleging negligence on the parts of Med-Trans Corp. and Grell for taking off in icy conditions.

The lawsuit had been on hold until the helicopter wreckage and a factual report were released by the National Transportation Safety Board. The wreckage was released in January 2014 and the report on Aug. 11, 2014.

The factual report stated that the helicopter was not equipped to fly in icy conditions. A probable cause has not been released yet.

A jury trial has now been set for Nov. 9, 2015, in the U.S. Courthouse, Sioux City.

The suit claims Med-Trans knew that Bell 407 helicopters were not safe to operate in certain weather conditions, including icing.

Also, the suit says Med-Trans is liable for the actions of Grell who, the suit claims, did not properly assess the weather before taking off, failed to abort the flight when he knew of the icing conditions, improperly flew the helicopter and failed to maintain control over it, and failed to obtain proper weather data prior to the flight.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages for the alleged wrongful death of Lair-Langenbau, punitive damages sufficient to punish and deter Med-Trans from further wrongdoing, court costs of the plaintiffs, and any further relief the court deems appropriate.

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