Friday, March 17, 2017

Hughes 369A, Hansen Helicopters Inc. / Jim's Air Repair, N805LA; accident occurred February 22, 2017: Feds seize helicopters as part of criminal probe

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Jim's Air Repair:

NTSB Identification: WPR17LA075
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, February 22, 2017 in
Aircraft: HUGHES 369A, registration: N805LA
Injuries: 2 Serious.

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 may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On February 22, 2017, about 1325 local time, a McDonnell-Douglas MD-369A helicopter, N805LA, was substantially damaged during an autorotation to the Pacific Ocean in international waters near Guam. The commercial pilot and the aerial observer were both seriously injured. The aerial observation flight was conducted during daylight visual meteorological conditions.

According to a written report sent to the NTSB by a representative of Hansen Helicopters, the flight was a fish-spotting mission that was operating from a Japanese fishing boat. The report stated that the helicopter had been airborne about 30 minutes, cruising at 1,000 above the ocean, when the pilot noticed that a "Generator Light" was illuminated. It then stated that the pilot applied friction to the collective control in order to free one hand to reset the generator switch, when the pilot "felt the helicopter drop suddenly." The pilot noticed that the main rotor RPM was "at the bottom of the green" arc on the cockpit indication. He attempted an autorotation but the helicopter struck the water in what the Hansen representative termed a "hard landing." The main rotor blades severed the tail boom, but the helicopter remained upright and floating on its pontoons.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) registration and airworthiness documentation indicated that the helicopter was manufactured in 1969 as a Hughes Helicopter military aircraft, and was powered by a Rolls-Royce (Allison) C250 series turboshaft engine. At the time of the accident it was owned by Jim's Air Repair, which is based in the country of Vanautu.

The pilot was a US citizen who held FAA Commercial and Flight Instructor certificates. The filed report indicated that he had about 2,936 total hours of flight experience, all of which were in helicopters, and 1,350 of which were in the accident helicopter make and model. His most recent flight review was completed in July 2015, and his most recent FAA second class medical certificate was issued in January 2016. The observer was reported to be a Japanese citizen, with no piloting experience.

The report filed by Hansen Helicopter stated that it had been completed by the pilot, and that Jim's Air Repair was the operator of the helicopter. When asked by the NTSB why Hansen Helicopter filed the report for a helicopter owned and operated by another entity, a Hansen representative stated that two organizations were "affiliated companies," but did not provide any additional details. About 13 days after the accident, the NTSB was advised via a third party that both the pilot and the observer had been hospitalized since the accident, as a result of the accident. The NTSB was further advised by this third party that the observer had already been transferred to Japan, and that the pilot was scheduled to be transported via medevac to the Philippines for surgery. This contrasted with the report filed by Hansen Helicopter, which indicated that the two persons on board sustained minor injuries.

The wreckage was subsequently determined to be in the possession of Hansen Helicopters at their facility on Guam. They were instructed to retain the wreckage and maintenance records for examination.

Feds seize helicopters as part of criminal probe 

Federal authorities late last year seized documents and helicopters from Hansen Helicopters Inc. and now the company’s lawyer wants the items returned. 

In a Jan. 9 letter to Hansen attorney David Lujan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Leon Guerrero wrote the seizure was part of a criminal investigation. Leon Guerrero also wrote the search warrant affidavits that Lujan requested wouldn't be provided.

"This is a criminal matter in which there is an ongoing investigation," Leon Guerrero wrote. "Such production will be made once this criminal matter is filed in court."

Hansen filed a civil case against the federal government in the District Court of Guam Wednesday.  The company's Guam office is in Harmon but it also has facilities in the U.S. mainland, according to court documents.

Authorities confiscated 15 registrations and airworthiness certificates and four helicopters from Hansen Helicopters in October 2016 and November 2016, according to Lujan’s motion.

Hansen’s chief pilot and manager, Kenneth Rufus Crowe, stated in a signed declaration that the certificates were seized from the company’s Harmon office.

Three helicopters were taken from the company’s facility in Georgia. A fourth helicopter was seized, but that helicopter isn't owned by Hansen. It's registered in the Philippines and owned by a Philippine aircraft company. Hansen was servicing the Philippine-registered helicopter, according to Crowe.

The company has lost money and continues to lose money every day that government keeps the seized documents and helicopters, Crowe stated.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office seizure of helicopters and documents was done without any criminal charges filed against the company, Lujan stated. He also said the seizure had no legal basis and violates the FAA's regulatory authority.  Lujan argued the seizure is against Federal Aviation Administration’s rules and has caused “irreparable economic injury” to the helicopter company.

Lujan cited FAA regulations, stating that all aircraft need certification, displayed inside the aircraft, to fly.

“(The) FAA prohibits an aircraft owner from operating the aircraft without such documentation, which means that the 15 helicopters at issue have been grounded since the seizures,” Lujan stated.

In addition to returning the confiscated helicopters, Lujan asied the court to order the U.S. Attorney's Office to turn over the search warrant affidavit used to search Hansen Helicopters' headquarters.

Lujan's clients believe confiscating the certificates “exceeded the scope of the authority granted under the warrants,” and having a copy of the search warrant affidavit would help Lujan assess whether that's correct, according to the motion.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office should not be allowed to ground aircraft and cripple the operation of Hansen Helicopters, particularly in the absence of both any FAA enforcement action and any criminal prosecution,” Lujan concluded.

Giving back the certification and helicopters will allow Henson to resume its business and resolve any irreparable injury currently inflicted, Lujan stated.

He also asked the court to schedule a hearing about the matter if the court decides to deny his motion.

According to the company's flyer, filed with Lujan's motion, Hansen Helicopters has a fleet of more than 60 helicopters and several airplanes and for sight-seeing tours, rescue operations, charters, emergency medical services and other services.


National Transportation Safety Board: Hansen Helicopters had past crashes

A Guam-based helicopter transport company whose Guam and Saipan helicopters and flying certificates were seized in a raid late last year had two fatal, maintenance-related crashes about two decades before the raid.

Hansen Helicopters Inc.’s attorney, David Lujan, wasn’t immediately available for comment yesterday. Lujan had filed court papers earlier this week indicating the business wants an evidentiary hearing and to obtain a copy of search warrants the FBI executed in October and November last year to get an idea of the reason for the raids.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which signed off on the search and seizure of several of Hansen’s helicopters, airworthiness certificates and registration certificates for 15 aircraft on the business’ fleet, also was unable to comment if the fatal crashes from many years ago had to do with what sparked the ongoing investigation.

The FBI also seized three helicopters at a Hansen facility in the state of Georgia and a helicopter registered in the Philippines, for which Hansen was providing maintenance, according to the business’ filing in the federal court.

Helicopters grounded

The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits an aircraft owner from operating the aircraft without airworthiness and registration documents, so the 15 helicopters at issue have been grounded since the FBI conducted the search between October and November last year, according to Lujan, in a motion filed in court earlier this week.

Lujan is asking the court to order an evidentiary hearing and to try to get the helicopter businesses’ aircraft and certificates released.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office neither confirms nor denies an ongoing criminal investigation to the public.

However, Stephen Leon Guerrero, an assistant U.S. attorney in Guam, wrote in a Jan. 9 letter to Lujan that no search warrant information would be turned over to Hansen because the matter continues to be part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office described the investigation as being in a pre-indictment phase, which means neither the business nor people involved in the business had been charged in court.

The National Transportation Safety Board has two records of fatal crashes involving Hansen.

On June 20, 1997, one man died and another was seriously injured when a Hansen helicopter crashed in the Pacific Ocean.

The pilot involved in the crash had not attended any factory training courses on the specific helicopter involved in the accident, according to the NTSB.

'Non-standard parts' found

And “non-standard parts were found on the inside” of what the NTSB report called a trim switch.

The examination and subsequent disassembly revealed that the switch had been disassembled and then reassembled, according to the NTSB.

“The switch is not a repairable item,” according to the report. “No repair manual or spare parts programs exist for this switch.”

The helicopter in the 1997 accident was used to spot tuna for a fishing ship called M/V Granada. The location of the accident site was about 2,000 miles southeast of Guam, according to the NTSB.

In another fatal accident, on Aug. 26, 1996, a Hansen helicopter crashed in waters near Guam, resulting in one death, according to NTSB records. The probable cause of the accident, according to the NTSB in a report, was the “loss of tail rotor control due to improper maintenance.”

The search last year confiscated Hansen logbooks, according to documents the company filed in federal court, in an attempt to get its helicopters and other property released by federal authorities.

Company 'economically injured'

“Hansen has already been economically injured by the seizures and would be irreparably injured by denying return of the registrations and certificates, as the FAA prohibits an aircraft owner from operating the aircraft without such documentation, which means that the 15 helicopters at issue have been grounded since the seizures,” according to Hansen.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to release the logbook for one aircraft.

“However, any other logbooks, airworthiness certificates and registration that were seized,” cannot be released because of the ongoing criminal investigation, according to Leon Guerrero.

“We will not agree to release a copy of the affidavits in support of both the Guam and CNMI Search Warrants,” Leon Guerrero wrote to Lujan. “This is a criminal matter in which there is an ongoing investigation. Such production will be made once this criminal matter is filed in court.”


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