Wednesday, March 15, 2017

McDonnell Douglas 369FF, N530KD, Rogers Helicopters Incorporated: Fatal accident occurred March 14, 2017 in Chalmers, Big Creek Township, White County, Indiana and accident occurred September 30, 2012 in Decorah, Winneshiek County, Iowa

Howard Esterbrook

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities: 

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Indianapolis, Indiana 
Rolls Royce; Indianapolis, Indiana
Rogers Helicopters, Inc.; Fresno, California
MD Helicopters; Mesa, Arizona

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: CEN17FA127
14 CFR Part 133: Rotorcraft Ext. Load
Accident occurred Tuesday, March 14, 2017 in Chalmers, IN
Aircraft: MCDONNELL DOUGLAS HELI CO 369FF, registration: N530KD
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 March 14, 2017, at 1546 eastern daylight time, an MD Helicopters 369FF helicopter, N530KD, impacted terrain during a power line construction flight. The pilot was fatally injured and the helicopter was destroyed. The helicopter was registered to Robin M Rogers and operated by Rogers Helicopters, Inc., under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 133 as an external load operation. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident and no flight plan had been filed. 

The purpose of the flight was to thread a sock line through the tower structure and pull the sock line to the next tower. The helicopter was equipped with a side pull hook assembly and a cargo hook. The cargo hook was attached to a 50-ft long line and grappling hook. The grappling hook was connected to a large metal needle which enabled the pilot to thread the sock line. 

A witness provided a 3-minute cell phone video of the events leading to the accident and the accident sequence. A preliminary review of the video revealed that the pilot was attempting to initially thread the needle through the center of the tower structure when the accident occurred. 

At 1535 the automated weather observation station located at White County Airport (MCX), Monticello, Indiana, about 5 miles northeast of the accident site, recorded: wind from 350° at 12 knots gusting to 19 knots, 7 statute miles visibility with light snow, broken clouds at 3,500 ft, overcast cloud layer at 4,800 ft, temperature 27°F, dew point 16°F, and altimeter setting 30.25 inches of mercury. 

Three witnesses independently reported gusting wind at the time of the accident. 

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

A long-time Hawaii Army National Guard helicopter pilot from Kapolei died in a helicopter crash in rural northern Indiana Tuesday while helping to install power lines for a private company.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Howard Esterbrook, 53, was supposed to return to Oahu today after spending weeks flying for a mainland company that was working in Brookston, in Indiana’s White County.

“He was coming home today,” said Esterbrook’s wife, Laura “Ohelo” Esterbrook. “I was going to pick him up at the airport.”

The White County Sheriff’s Department and Indiana State Police received a call of a helicopter crash with injuries at 3:50 p.m. local time, according to Sgt. Kim Riley of the Indiana State Police.

Esterbrook’s helicopter was helping to install power lines on new steel light poles when it crashed for unknown reasons, Riley said. A ground crew removed Esterbrook from the wreckage and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

But Esterbrook was pronounced dead at the scene by the White County Coroner’s Office.

The National Transportation Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have been notified, Riley said.

Esterbrook’s sister-in-law, former Miss Hawaii Luana Alapa, said her cousin lives in Indiana and reported that winds were blowing so hard the day of Esterbrook’s crash that cars were getting pushed off of the freeway.

“The winds in Indiana that day were unusually high,” Alapa said. “You would think he would get shot down in Afghanistan. But, no, it was the wind.”

Brad Hayes, executive director of Naval Air Museum Barbers Point, regularly flew with Esterbrook when they worked for Maui-based Pacific Helicopters that operated across the islands.

Whatever happened to Esterbrook in Indiana must have been unexpected, Hayes said.

Esterbrook had logged more than 20,000 hours flying helicopters and “had all the flying survival skills, all the tricks up his sleeve and a thinking man’s approach to all these jobs,” Hayes said. “Based on this guy’s skill level, it was something that wasn’t controllable or even foreseeable. It snuck up on him and he didn’t even see it. Whatever went wrong, went wrong quick.”

Esterbrook had served for 17 years in the Hawaii Army National Guard, left to fly civilian helicopters for utility and environmental jobs, then lost 150 pounds before re-enlisting in the Guard three years ago, his wife said. He was planning to be redeployed to the Middle East later this year, she said.

Esterbrook is survived by his wife, who runs a company called Ohelo’s Mango Chutneys; daughter Taylor Esterbrook of Waianae; and brother Michael Uchida of Kahala.

Esterbrook had requested that his ashes be scattered in the waters off of Diamond Head, Alapa said.

Services are pending.


An experienced pilot from Hawaii is dead, after his rotorcraft crashed in the Midwest.    

53-year-old Howard Esterbrook of Kapolei was in Indiana to install power lines to new electrical towers when the helicopter he was flying crashed in northern Indiana Tuesday.

Its unknown at the time what exactly caused the rotorcraft to go down.

Family and friends said Esterbrook is a well-known pilot in Hawaii's aviation community with many years of flying experience.  
He is also a Hawaii National Guardsman with 28 years of service, piloting Chinook helicopters.  He served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and was about to start training for his third deployment.

Esterbrook also worked for Rogers Helicopter and Pacific Helicopter on Maui.

"We are all just stunned and heartbroken here.  Howard was a meticulous pilot, he's had a lot of years of experience.  He's been doing utility work since the early 90's," said Colleen Hauptman, President of Pacific Helicopter Tours.

His family said Esterbrook had a deep love for flying and for serving his county.

In a statement released by a family member it said:
"We are all pretty much in a trance, not really believing this happened. i am comforted to know how much Howard has made such an impact on his Hawaii national guard buddies, co workers, and many others."

Howard Esterbrook leaves behind his wife of 25-years, Laura Alapa-Esterbook and daughter Taylor.

Story and video:

WHITE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — A helicopter crash in White County that killed a pilot remains under investigation.

The helicopter crashed just before 4 p.m. and landed in a field near the intersection of county roads East 700 South and South 150 East in White County, southeast of Chalmers.

Sgt. Kim Riley with Indiana State Police said the pilot, identified as Howard Y. Esterbrook, 53, of Hawaii, was the only one in the helicopter at the time of the crash. Crews tried giving him CPR, but he died from his injuries.

Riley said the helicopter was part of a utility crew with EC Source, working to string power lines in the area. He said Esterbrook was subcontracted through the company.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were called in to assist with the investigation.

“We can find out the identification of the person that was flying the helicopter, in this case, and then we basically secure the situation until we can get the [NTSB] or the FAA here to start their own investigation and basically, we turn it over to them,” explained Riley.

It is unknown how long the investigation will take.

County Road East 700 South remained closed late Tuesday night.

Story and video: Additional Participating Entities: Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Des Moines, Iowa  
Aviation Accident Final Report
- National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Aviation Accident Data Summary - National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: CEN12LA667
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, September 30, 2012 in Decorah, IA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/13/2014
Aircraft: MCDONNELL DOUGLAS HELI CO 369FF, registration: N530KD
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

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

The pilot and passenger were repositioning the helicopter and stopped twice to refuel. Each time they stopped, the pilot filled the fuel tank. Following the second stop, the pilot flew the helicopter for just more than 1 hour for personal reasons. Before continuing on the repositioning flight, the pilot added 15 gallons of fuel. Because this was not enough fuel to top off the fuel tank, the pilot referenced the fuel gauge, which he said indicated 305 to 310 pounds of fuel on board. According to the pilot, the helicopter burned about 240 pounds of fuel per hour. The pilot and passenger then departed on the next leg of their flight with an estimated time en route of 1 hour. About 58 minutes after they departed, the fuel-low caution light illuminated, indicating the helicopter had 35 pounds of fuel remaining. The pilot continued the flight because he was within a few miles of the destination airport. However, about 3 minutes after the fuel-low caution light illuminated, the engine lost total power. The pilot made an autorotation to a mature corn field, and the helicopter bounced on touchdown and rolled over on its left side, which damaged the tail boom.

Examination of the helicopter revealed minimal fuel remained in the fuel sump and 1/4-cup of fuel remained in the fuel tank. Further examination revealed no mechanical deficiencies with the fuel system; however, when the fuel gauge and low-fuel caution light were tested they were found to not be calibrated correctly. The fuel gauge indicated a higher-than-actual fuel tank quantity, and the fuel-low caution light illuminated when only 19 pounds of fuel remained in the fuel tank, instead of 35 pounds, as designed. According to the operator, the fuel quantity sensor system, including the low fuel-low caution light, was inspected during a normal maintenance inspection about 7 months before the accident, and no discrepancies were noted. No subsequent maintenance had been performed on the fuel quantity sensor system.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot's failure to properly manage the helicopter's available fuel supply, which led to a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion. Contributing to the accident was the improper calibration of the fuel gauge and the fuel-low warning light.

On September 30, 2012, at 0920 central daylight time, a McDonnell Douglas 369FF helicopter, N530KD, sustained substantial damage during a forced landing to a corn field near Decorah, Iowa. The airline transport rated pilot and the passenger sustained minor injuries. The helicopter was registered to and operated by Rogers Helicopters Incorporated, Fresno, California. A company visual flight rules flight plan was filed for the flight that departed Fort Dodge Regional Airport (FOD), Fort Dodge, Iowa, about 0820, and was destined for Decorah Municipal Airport (DEH), Decorah, Iowa. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the repositioning flight conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

The pilot reported that he picked up the helicopter and his passenger (an employee of the operator) on September 29, 2013, in Kearney, Nebraska, and planned to fly it to Green Bay, Wisconsin, for a power line construction job scheduled to begin on October 1, 2012. They departed Kearney, with full fuel (64 gallons/428 pounds total) and flew to Columbus, Nebraska (a 50-minute flight), where he topped off the fuel tank by adding 32 gallons of fuel. They then departed Columbus for Fort Dodge, Iowa (a 1:20 flight). In Fort Dodge, the passenger topped off the fuel tank with 48.95 gallons of fuel. That night, while the passenger stayed at a hotel, the pilot flew the helicopter to his ranch near Jefferson, Iowa, a total of 48 minutes. (The pilot said it was a 14 minute flight to his ranch and then he flew an additional 34 minutes before he landed and spent the night). The following morning, the day of the accident, the pilot flew back to Fort Dodge (a 14 minute flight) and picked up the passenger. The pilot added only 15 gallons of fuel in Fort Dodge. Since the pilot was unable to visually check the fuel quantity due to the design of the fuel system (a pilot can only verify a full tank if the tank is topped off), he referenced the fuel gauge, which indicated a total of 305-310 pounds of fuel.

The pilot and the passenger then departed for Decorah, Iowa. The pilot said the low fuel caution light illuminated about 58 minutes into the flight, which should have indicated there was at least 35 pounds of fuel remaining. The pilot elected to continue toward the airport since it was about 3 miles away. He said that about three minutes after the fuel-low warning light came on, the engine flamed out and he made an autorotation to a mature corn field. The helicopter bounced upon touch down and rolled over coming to rest on its left side.

Examination of the helicopter by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed the tail boom had separated and the main rotor and tail rotor blades were damaged. The fuel tank was not damaged and there was no smell of fuel. Approximately two drops of fuel were drained from the fuel sump and about a quarter-cup of fuel from the fuel tank.

At the request of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Investigator-in-Charge (IIC), the company that repaired the helicopter performed a more detailed examination of the fuel system and found no mechanical deficiencies that would have precluded normal operation of the fuel system and engine. However, the fuel gauge and fuel-low caution light were not calibrated correctly. When 19 pounds of fuel were placed in the fuel tank, the fuel gauge indicated 2 bar widths above the red dot on the guage (red dot is the 35 pounds of fuel mark); and, when 35 pounds of fuel were placed in the tank, the gauge indicated between the red dot and 100 pounds. The fuel-low caution light, which should come on when 35 pounds of fuel are remaining in the tank, came on at 19 pounds.

According to the operator, the fuel-low caution light was inspected as part of a continuous airworthiness inspection on March 1, 2012. From the time this inspection was completed to the time of the accident, no other maintenance was performed on the fuel quantity sensor system.

1 comment:

EwaMarine463 said...

Howard Esterbrook was one of the safest and most capable tuned in aviators Ive ever known in my life. Literally the last guy on earth that I would concieve this happening. Our community in Hawaii is totally ass kicked in the morale dept. He was a patriot, animal lover, dog advocate, shooter, Husband, and Dad. He worked as a welder prior to US Army Aviation as a Cobra and Huey pilot. Howard left his daughter Taylor, Wife Laura, and his dog Hans.