Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sikorsky S-61N, EP Aviation LLC, N805AR: Fatal accident occurred September 06, 2016 in Palm Bay, Brevard County, Florida


NTSB Identification: ERA16FA311
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, September 06, 2016 in Palm Bay, FL
Aircraft: SIKORSKY S61, registration: N805AR
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 September 6, 2016, about 1340 eastern daylight time, a Sikorsky S-61N, N805AR, was destroyed when it impacted a field under unknown circumstances near Palm Bay, Florida. The airline transport pilot, commercial copilot, and maintenance crewmember were fatally injured. The helicopter was registered to EP Aviation LLC and operated by AAR Airlift Group as a post-maintenance flight conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a company flight plan was filed for the local flight that departed Melbourne International Airport (MLB), Melbourne, Florida, at 1324.

According to the operator, the helicopter's fore/aft pitch servo was recently removed and replaced. Subsequently, a functional check flight (FCF) was performed, which included maximum performance maneuvers at maximum gross weight. Ground witness videos recorded the helicopter performing maneuvers near the accident site uneventfully, about 100 feet above ground level. The helicopter then flew an orbit around the accident site about the same altitude, before the video ended. There were no known witnesses to the impact sequence.

The helicopter came to rest upright in a field with no debris path noted. The wreckage was oriented about a magnetic heading of 190 degrees. A postcrash fire consumed the cockpit and cabin. The tailboom transition section exhibited partial thermal damage and the tailboom remained intact. The five main rotor blades and five tailrotor blades remained attached to their respective rotor hubs. The main and tailrotor blades exhibited signatures consistent with low rotational energy. Four of the five main rotor blades exhibited partial thermal damage and one main rotor blade exhibited thermal damage along its entire span. One tailrotor blade was fractured about 1 foot outboard of the attachment bolt; the outboard section of the separated blade was found on the ground next to the tailrotor. Another tailrotor blade was partially separated about 1 foot outboard of the attachment bolt and its tip was embedded in the ground. Drivetrain continuity was confirmed between the main transmission and the tailrotor gearbox.

Both engines remained attached to the airframe and exhibited fire damage. Examination of the engines revealed that both engine stage one compressor blades exhibited little or no leading edge damage. Both engine fuel control units were found with their respective control shaft in the "FLIGHT" position. Both engines were separated from the main gearbox at the aft end of the high-speed shaft. The wreckage was retained for further examination.

The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with a rating for rotorcraft helicopter. He also held a commercial pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single-engine land, airplane multiengine land and instrument airplane. In addition, the pilot held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for rotorcraft helicopter and instrument rotorcraft. The pilot's most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first-class medical certificate was issued on December 5, 2015. According to company records, as of January 1, 2016, the pilot had accrued a total flight experience of approximately 6,053 hours; of which, 5,548 hours were in helicopters and 1,532 of those hours were in the same make and model as the accident helicopter.

The copilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for rotorcraft helicopter and instrument helicopter. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued on May 16, 2016. According to company records, as of July 31, 2016, the copilot had accrued a total flight experience of 4,090 hours; all of which were in helicopters.

The 41-seat capacity, tricycle-gear helicopter, serial number 61717, was manufactured in 1974. It was powered by two General Electric CT58-140-2, 1500-horsepower turboshaft engines. The helicopter was maintained under a continuous airworthiness program. Its most recent inspection was a phase five check, which was completed on August 25, 2016. At that time, the airframe had accumulated 40,296.2 total hours of operation. The No. 1 engine had accumulated 711.6 hours since major overhaul and the No. 2 engine had accumulated 133.4 since light overhaul. The helicopter had flown about 1.2 hours, from the time of the last inspection, until the accident flight. Those hours comprised of two previous uneventful FCF flights during the day of the accident.

The MLB airport was located about 8 miles north of the accident site. The recorded weather at MLB, at 1353, included wind from 070 degrees at 11 knots, visibility 10 miles and few clouds at 5,000 feet.

A cockpit voice recorder was recovered from the wreckage and forwarded to the NTSB Vehicle Recorder Laboratory, Washington, D.C, for data download.

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

Three people were killed in the fiery crash of a large, military-style helicopter conducting low-level flight test maneuvers over western Palm Bay on Tuesday, authorities report.

Palm Bay Fire-Rescue crews quickly responded to the crash of the Sikorsky S-61N helicopter at 1:55 p.m. near the so-called Compound of southwestern Palm Bay. The helicopter, owned by a division of a global aviation support company, took off from Orlando Melbourne International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration officials told FLORIDA TODAY.

"One of our Palm Bay Public Works workers were out here and she saw the helicopter go down," said Mike Bandish, a spokesman for the Palm Bay Police Department. "She called it in, and we responded out here. She said it was hovering at maybe about 500 feet. It appeared to be coming down a little bit and then all of a sudden, boom, it just hit the ground, burst into flames. She called 9-1-1 right away."

Bandish also said that their witness said the  helicopter did not appear to be in any distress before it crashed in an open field.

"It's an extensive crash," he said, adding that it took Palm Bay Fire Rescue crews about half an hour to put out the flames that engulfed the wreckage. The 1974-model helicopter has 28 seats and two turbine engines. Similar helicopters have been used by the U.S. Coast Guard in years past. It was not immediately known if the aircraft was experiencing mechanical issues. The cause of the crash is not immediately known at this time but already the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are in route to inspect the site.

The helicopter is privately owned and operated out of Orlando Melbourne International Airport, officials report. The crash victims have not been identified. The aircraft was operated by AAR Airlift Group Inc.  located on Commerce Drive in Palm Bay and advertises the operation of a fleet of medium and heavy rotary wing aircraft along with a fleet of fixed wing craft.

The aviation company is a division of the Wood Dale, Illinois-based AAR Corp, authorities reported. The Palm Bay division of the global company has in the past handled military contracts for U.S. operations in Africa and also search and rescue operations for the U.K. in the Falkland Islands. The company's total operations lists $2 billion in assets and has 7,000 employees spanning 17 countries, according to its website.

The helicopter crew operates out of an aircraft services hangar at the airport was performing test flights in the area, investigators reported.

A search of the surrounding area was also conducted while Brevard County Fire Rescue crews worked to clean up a localized hazardous spill.

All three people died in the helicopter crash and subsequent fire, Palm Bay police confirmed. The incident was reported near Freeburg Avenue, between Sapodilla Road and Wingham Drive. 

The aircraft was  engulfed in flames, on the ground, when the mangled heap was located, police reported. At least one person witnessed the immediate aftermath of the crash. Police said the helicopter - possibly seen doing its maneuvers earlier in the day over the same area - took off from Orlando Melbourne International Airport. Several witnesses told police that they say the helicopter descended in the area where it eventually crashed.

"I was on Emerson and all of a sudden, the police were coming up behind me," said Summer Light, who was driving in the area at the time. She saw the patrol cars speed off and then looked off past the tree line and spotted a growing plume of black smoke rising into the sky. She then snapped a photo of the smoke. "When I got to Bombardier, I saw the smoke. I just feel really bad for the family," Light said.

The helicopter crash was in the same area as where the city’s Tough Mudder event was held, officials reported.

The FAA is investigating the crash.

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