14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, April 06, 2015 in Cherokee, AL
Aircraft: HUGHES 369D, registration: N555JC
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. 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 April 6, 2015, about 1300 central daylight time, a Hughes 369D, N555JC, was substantially damaged when it impacted the Tennessee River adjacent the Natchez Trace Bridge, near Cherokee, Alabama. The commercial pilot was fatally injured. Low ceilings and fog prevailed. A company flight plan was filed for the flight, which originated at Roscoe Turner Airport (CRX), Corinth, Mississippi, destined for Scottsboro Municipal Airport-Word Field (4A6), Scottsboro, Alabama. The positioning flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to a witness, a former private pilot, he heard the helicopter land in a National Park Service field contiguous to his property, about 3,900 feet from the 1-mile-long, north-south Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge. He couldn't see the bridge at the time due to fog and light mist.
The helicopter remained on the ground for about 45 seconds, still powered with rotors turning; then power increased and it took off smoothly, clearing trees by about 30 feet. The helicopter subsequently headed toward the bridge, and after about 10 to 15 seconds, the witness lost sight of it in the fog. As the helicopter flew, the witness heard no anomalies, and the engine sounded "healthy." He subsequently heard the helicopter hit the water with no change in sound until impact.
According to another witness, he was fishing under the south end of the bridge when the accident occurred. The weather was foggy with low visibility and rain.
The witness heard the helicopter for about 10 to 15 minutes before seeing it coming toward him, paralleling the west side of the bridge. When he first saw the helicopter through the fog, it was level with the top of the bridge. It began a gradual descent, then about 10 seconds before water impact, dropped (nose-dived) to about 25 feet above the water. It subsequently descended at a 10- to 15-degree angle, and impacted the water near the center of the river, about 50 to 100 feet east of a green buoy (about 100 yards west of the bridge.)
There was no change in sound before the helicopter hit the water, with the same "whining" noise until impact. At impact, the witness saw the helicopter's tail "kick over" the top of the main rotor blades and snap off. The helicopter did not hit the bridge.
The helicopter was recovered from the river on April 9, 2015. It was missing the aft part of the tail boom, including the tail rotor and gear box, from about 33 inches (fuselage station 230) aft of the tail boom mount, and only remnants of one main rotor blade were subsequently recovered; the other blades remained missing. The left skid was also missing.
Damage began at the helicopter's front, lower left side, and extended upwards. There was no hydraulic crushing (water impact damage) to the bottom of the fuselage.
Control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit to the rotor head, both vertically through the collective, and laterally and longitudinally through the cyclic. Yaw control through the rudder pedals was confirmed from the cockpit to the remnants of the "long tail rotor control rod" in the severed tail boom.
Rotor system drive continuity was confirmed from the engine to the transmission, the transmission to the rotor hub, and from the transmission aft to where the tail rotor drive shaft was severed along with the tail boom.
Three of the five rotor blades were separated just outboard of the doubler at the main rotor root fitting, and two blades were separated through the strap assemblies and blade pitch housings, consistent with full power on the rotor system at water impact. Extensive damage was also found on the hub upper shoe in the vicinity of all five pitch change housings, consistent with a medium-to-high collective setting at the time of impact.
LAUDERDALE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) -
The search for the pilot of a helicopter that crashed into the Tennessee River continues on Wednesday.
Crews searching for the helicopter in Lauderdale County pinpointed the aircraft on Tuesday night and determined that the pilot was not inside.
Officials brought in K9 units on Wednesday to help with recovery efforts as they search for the pilot. FAA, ENSP, Army and state helicopters were also brought in to help with the search. Crews will take turns searching the banks of the river, while the dogs on the ground will lead the search.
On Monday night, crews discovered what they believed was debris from the helicopter, which is thought to have crashed about three-quarters of a mile west of the Natchez Trace bridge in Lauderdale County. Officials say the aircraft, a Hughes 500, was en route from Corinth, MS to Scottsboro. The cause of the crash is unknown.
Emergency crews brought a dive team in to search for the helicopter and two boats searched the area on Monday afternoon. The Colbert County dive team and Cherokee search and rescue boats went back out just after 9 a.m. Tuesday, although divers have not been in the water.
Officials were trying to positively identify the aircraft underwater using sonar image and cameras and secure the area before sending divers down. They worked to decipher the difference between river debris and actual wreckage.
"The currents are going to be hard for the divers first and foremost, second the speed is going to move the debris and possibly move the aircraft so we've got a moving target," said Chuck Landsdell with Cherokee Fire & Rescue.
A witness said he was fishing under the bridge when the helicopter hit the water. The helicopter reportedly went down in the barge channel, which is the deepest part of the river. By the time emergency crews got to the scene, all the debris had already sunk.
River traffic is moving as normal, although that may change once crews locate the exact site of the wreckage.
The NTSB said they would not come to the scene until the aircraft is pinpointed and the area secured.
Haverfield Aviation, an aviation company, reported a missing aircraft that had last been reported on GPS near the scene of Monday's search. They believe only one person was on board during the crash.
The company said the pilot was traveling from one job to the next, but wasn't currently working.
Haverfield Aviation, based out of Pennsylvania, has three bases in Denton, TX; Fort Wayne, IN and Valdosta, GA. According to its website, the company provides aerial power line inspection and construction support services in the US and abroad.