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.
COLBERT COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – A recovery barge on the scene at Colbert Ferry Park and teams has pulled the wreckage of the helicopter from the Tennessee River. Crews got most of the aircraft above the water shortly after 12 p.m. Thursday.
The search continues for the pilot, who has not been publicly identified.
Searchers have been using cadaver dogs and specially equipped helicopters in their efforts.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board is focusing on the wreckage of the aircraft, which was 27 feet below the surface of the Tennessee River.
The helicopter went down Monday just near the park, at Natchez Trace Parkway.