Monday, June 13, 2016

Robinson R44 Raven II, Floyd Vuncannon Aviation Inc., N789MR: Fatal accident occurred June 12, 2016 at Jonesboro Municipal Airport (KJBR), Craighead County, Arkansas

National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Preliminary Report:


FAA Flight Standards District Office:  FAA Little Rock FSDO-11

NTSB Identification: CEN16FA215
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, June 12, 2016 in Jonesboro, AR
Aircraft: ROBINSON HELICOPTER COMPANY R44 II, registration: N789MR
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 June 12, 2016, about 1530 central daylight time, a Robinson Helicopter Company, R44 II helicopter, N789MR, impacted terrain during takeoff from the Classic Airstrip (23AR), near Jonesboro, Arkansas. The pilot, who was the sole occupant, was fatally injured. The helicopter was destroyed during the impact and subsequent ground fire. The helicopter was registered to Floyd Vuncannon Aviation Inc. and was operated by the pilot as a 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the airport about the time of the accident, and the flight was not operated on a flight plan. The local flight was originating from 23AR at the time of the accident.

A witness at 23AR reported that he saw the accident. He, in part, indicated that the saw the accident pilot coming from his hangar back to another hangar. When the witness finished working on a task, he heard the accident pilot say that he was going to put on an airshow. The witness was in the process of departing from the airport when he saw the accident pilot getting into his helicopter across the runway on the airstrip, east of his location. The witness observed that the helicopter lifted off at a 45-degree pitch-up attitude. The helicopter rose to about 125 feet and descended out of sight behind hangars between the two airstrips. The witness indicated that he thought he "heard it hit" but the engine never shutdown. The helicopter began to rise upwards above the hangars and it began to spin around. It appeared that the tail rotor was not working and the skids were bent as if it had hit the ground. It continued to rise to approximately the same liftoff height. The helicopter descended again, impacted terrain, and burst into flames in the middle of the west airstrip. The witness stated that another witness nearby called 911 and they waited for first responders to arrive.

The 73-year-old pilot held a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land, rotorcraft helicopter, rotorcraft gyroplane, and instrument airplane ratings. He also held a flight instructor certificate, expiring October 31, 2017, with airplane single engine, rotorcraft helicopter, and rotorcraft gyroplane ratings. He held a FAA second-class medical certificate issued on May 1, 2014, with limitations that the pilot "must wear corrective lenses and possess glasses for near and intermediate vision." At the time of that medical examination, he reported 6,000 hours total flight time to date and 110 hours in the six months before that examination. A review of excerpts from the pilot's logbook, acquired by a FAA inspector, did not reveal an entry for a flight review. The logbook pages were not totaled and the last entry was dated August 2, 2015.

N789MR, serial number 10561, was a Robinson R44 II, Raven, four-place, two-bladed, single main rotor, single-engine helicopter, with a spring and yield skid type landing gear. The primary structure of its fuselage was welded steel tubing and riveted aluminum sheet. The tailcone was a monocoque structure consisting of an aluminum skin. A Lycoming IO-540-AE1A5, serial number L-29728-48A, engine rated at 205 horsepower, powered the helicopter. The helicopter had a five-minute takeoff rating of 245 horsepower.

A review of helicopter logbook excerpts, acquired by a FAA inspector, showed that the helicopter's last annual inspection was completed on July 2 2015. At the time of that inspection, the helicopter had accumulated a total time of 1,242.1 hours.

The helicopter manufacturer issued, R44 Service Bulletin (SB)-78B, on December 20, 2010, and issued a revised SB on September 28, 2012. The SB, in part, indicated:

TO: R44 and R44 II owners, operators, and maintenance personnel
SUBJECT: Bladder Fuel Tank Retrofit
ROTORCRAFT AFFECTED: R44 helicopters S/N 0001 thru 2064, and R44 II
Helicopters S/N 10001 thru 12890, unless previously accomplished.
TIME OF COMPLIANCE: As soon as practical, but no later than 30 April 2013.
BACKGROUND: This bulletin requires R44 helicopters with all-aluminum
fuel tanks to be retrofitted with bladder-type tanks. In addition to a
factory retrofit program, a field kit is now available. To improve the R44
fuel system's resistance to a post-accident fuel leak, this retrofit must
be performed as soon as possible.

The review of the helicopter logbook excerpts did not reveal an entry for the installation of the fuel tank mandatory SB.

At 1538, the recorded weather at the Jonesboro Municipal Airport, near Jonesboro, Arkansas, was: Wind 090 degrees at 4 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; present weather thunderstorms in the vicinity; temperature 34 degrees C; dew point 21 degrees C; altimeter 30.02 inches of mercury.

23AR was a private, non-towered airport, which was owned by an individual. It was located about seven miles east of Jonesboro, Arkansas. The airport had an estimated elevation of 260 feet above mean sea level. The airport's published runway 17/35 was a 2,600 feet by 80 feet runway with a turf surface.

Another north/south oriented turf runway west of the published runway existed. It was located about 350 feet west of the published runway and it was owned by another individual.

The main helicopter wreckage came to rest about 1,800 feet and 35 degrees from the intersection of Highway 18 and Barnhill Road. The helicopter's resting heading was about 270 degrees magnetic. The tailcone was folded to the left and separated near its forward end. Most of the aluminum and fiberglass components of the fuselage were discolored, deformed, and consumed by fire. The aft section of the tailcone was separated and it came to rest approximately 20 feet south of the airframe. The tail rotor gearbox remained attached to the aft bulkhead of the aft section of the tailcone. The empennage was separated from the bulkhead and the empennage came to rest approximately 40 feet south of the airframe. Both tail rotor blades were separated near their roots and came to rest east of the airframe on the other side of a hangar. The main rotor gearbox and main rotor was separated from the airframe and found resting about three feet north of the airframe. Ground scars north of the airframe were consistent with main rotor blade strikes. Main rotor blade tip pieces were recovered in and or near the scars and yellow paint was transferred to the dirt inside the scars.

A series of ground scars consistent with the shape, size, and distance apart for tail rotor strikes were located east of the location that the tail rotor blades had come to rest.

An on-scene examination of the wreckage was conducted. All flight control rod ends remained attached to their attachment points. Sections of push pull tubes were not continuous, separated from their original location, and/or consumed by fire. All flight control discontinuities exhibited either thermal damage or separations consistent with overload. No preimpact anomalies were detected in the flight control system.

The fuel mixture control knob was found in the full rich position. The mixture control wire was found disconnected near its fuel mixture arm on the engine fuel control servo unit. The throttle linkage sustained thermal damage and its position could not be determined. The governor switch sustained thermal damage and its position could not be determined.

The right skid tube was recovered from under the main wreckage and it sustained thermal damage. The four struts were separated from the airframe and were thermally damaged. The aft cross tube appeared to be thermally deformed. A portion of the front cross tube was consumed by fire. The remaining end was not bent near its elbow. The tailskid had some witness marks on its lowest bottom surface consistent with scuffing.

Observed damage to the cabin structure included deformation, discoloration, and consummation by fire. The removable cyclic and collective were recovered from under seat debris. The removable pedals were installed. The pedals were found in a neutral position. The vertical tube of the cyclic control was bent aft. The cyclic grip was consumed by fire. The aft left and aft right doors were recovered in the main wreckage and sustained thermal damage. The two front doors were not identified or found in the wreckage.

The upper and lower frames were bent and had some separations in their tubes. The surface of the separations exhibited angular and jagged features consistent with overload. The lower edge of the vertical firewall was deformed. The tailcone was bent to the left and thermally damaged at its forward end. An aft tailcone bay by its tail rotor was separated from the tailcone and the separated tailcone exhibited deformation damage consistent with several tail rotor blade strikes. The empennage was separated from the aft bulkhead. The surface of the separation was rough and jagged. The lower vertical stabilizer was bent to the right as viewed from its aft looking forward. A segment of the tail rotor guard that included the curved section of the tail rotor guard was separated below its forward mount and forward of its aft mount. The surfaces of the guard's separations were angular and jagged. The aft section of the tail rotor guard remained attached to its mount and the tip of the tail rotor guard exhibited witness marks consistent with scuffing on its lower left surface.

Sections of the V-belts were consumed by fire with charred sections remaining in the grooves of the upper sheave and on the ground below the lower sheave. The alignment strut's outer rod end for the upper sheave exhibited a separation consistent with overload. No scoring was visible on the sheave face. Scoring was visible on the rod end jam nut adjacent to the aft sheave face. The overrunning clutch operated properly. The actuator was extended approximately one inch.

The main rotor gearbox was separated at the upper housing. The main rotor driveshaft was bent approximately 15 degrees at the swashplate. The mast tube was bent and exhibited thermal discoloration and damage. Both elastomeric teeter stops were consumed by fire. Their brackets were bent across the center. One droop stop tusk was bent downward and the spindle was found cracked. The surface of its crack separation was angular and jagged. The other spindle coning bolthole was deformed.
Both main rotor blades exhibited thermal damage and deformation consistent with impact damage.

The lower frame tube adjacent to the intermediate flex coupling exhibited rotational scoring. The tail rotor driveshaft was bent near its forward end and was disconnected just aft of the bend. The tail rotor drive shaft damper bearing bracket was separated from the bulkhead. The damper bearing exhibited thermal damage and would not rotate. The tail rotor gearbox rotated with no anomalies. Oil was visible in its sight gage. The blades were separated near their roots. The surface of the tail rotor blades' separations exhibited angular and jagged features consistent with overload. Both blades were bent to the right and they exhibited damage to their leading edge at their tips. One blade exhibited deformation damage that was consistent with rivet locations on tailcone. Witness marks running chordwise near the blade tips were present on both blades, which appeared to be consistent with terrain contact.

Observed damage to the cooling fan included discoloration and it was deformed around its forward edge. The cooling scroll was consumed by fire. The alternator's cooling fan was deformed.

The engine was found lying upright and it remained attached to its tubular engine mounts. The exterior surfaces of the engine were discolored consistent with exposure to a post-impact fire. Sections of the oil sump were consumed in the fire. The fuel servo was found separated and partially thermally consumed. The remaining rear mounted accessories exhibited features consistent with fire damaged.

The engine was partially disassembled. The engine was rotated by turning the cooling fan and continuity of the crankshaft to the rear gears and to the valve train was confirmed. Thumb compression and suction was observed from all six cylinders as the engine was rotated. The interiors of the cylinders were examined using a lighted borescope and no anomalies noted. The two-piece fuel injector nozzles were disassembled and were found to be unobstructed. Disassembly of both magnetos revealed their internal components sustained thermal damage. The removed sparkplug electrodes exhibited light brown coloration and worn out normal condition when compared to the Champion Check-A-Plug chart.

The Arkansas State Crime Lab Medical Examiner's Office was asked to conduct an autopsy and to take toxicological samples.

The turf, in a circular shaped area around the helicopter was found charred. Portions or the helicopter wreckage were discolored, deformed, and consumed by fire consistent with a ground fire.

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email,  and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

Floyd Vuncannon during an interview with Region 8 News in 2010 .

Floyd Vuncannon


Witnesses tell investigators a man killed in a helicopter crash Sunday had been drinking and was told not to fly.

Floyd Vuncannon, 72, of Jonesboro died when his helicopter crashed Sunday afternoon at the Classic Airstrip on Highway 18.

Craighead County sheriff’s investigators interviewed two men who witnessed the crash, according to the initial incident report.

One of the men said that Vuncannon was “intoxicated” and had been told not to fly anything.

The second witness corroborated the first’s account, saying Vuncannon had been “drinking for some time” before he got into the helicopter.

The man added that Vuncannon “took off from his hangar before pulling back at a 45-degree angle.”

The helicopter then stalled approximately 125-150 feet in the air before descending toward the ground.

The witness said the helicopter began to spin again before going back up to 150 feet in the air.

“The aircraft then made a descent nose first into the ground,” the report stated. “It immediately burst into flames.”

Sheriff Marty Boyd told Region 8 News that investigators cannot say whether Vuncannon was intoxicated or not.

The body has been sent to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory in Little Rock for an autopsy and toxicology report.

The Craighead County Sheriff's Office conducted the initial crash investigation; but, Boyd says the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board is now in charge of the investigation.

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