Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bell 206B-3 TH-67A Creek, N911GE: Accident occurred May 02, 2017 in Orange Springs, Florida

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

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Orlando, Florida

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Marion County Sheriff:

NTSB Identification: ERA17LA170
14 CFR Public Aircraft
Accident occurred Tuesday, May 02, 2017 in Orange Springs, FL
Aircraft: BELL 206, registration: N911GE
Injuries: 1 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 May 2, 2017, about 1815 eastern daylight time, a Bell 206B helicopter, N911GE, sustained substantial damage during firefighting operations near Orange Springs, Florida. The helicopter was registered to and operated by the Marion County Sheriff's Office as a public-use aircraft. The commercial pilot sustained serious injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the local flight that departed Ocala International Airport, Ocala, Florida, about 1500.

According to the Aviation Unit Commander, the pilot was utilizing a firefighting bucket (Bambi Bucket®) and had completed between 25 and 30 drops on the fire zone. He landed at a nearby landing zone, refueled, and completed 3 or 4 additional drops when the accident occurred. After lowering the bucket into the water and filling it, he pulled the bucket from the water and immediately felt "a severely out of CG condition to the right." He assumed that the bucket cables were entangled in the tail skid, so he released the water from the bucket. The condition persisted, so he rocked the helicopter to attempt to free the cable; however, this was not successful. He then released the cable with the cargo release button. He heard the "clunk" sound that was typical with releasing the bucket, then he heard another "clunk." The helicopter them began to spin violently and crashed into the water. The pilot freed himself from the cockpit, inflated his personal flotation device, and swam to shore. He utilized his cell phone to call for assistance and was rescued by first responders.

An initial examination of the wreckage revealed cable marks on the right rear skid tube for about 6 inches in length. There was also a torsional fracture of the tail rotor short shaft.

A Marion County sheriff’s helicopter crashed into a small lake or pond near Fort McCoy Tuesday evening while helping fight a wildfire.

The pilot, Sgt. John Rawls, the only person in the helicopter, swam to safety and is expected to be OK. He injured his back, sheriff’s officials said, and was taken to the Ocala Regional Medical Center.

Marion County Fire Rescue was dispatched at 6:29 p.m., according to its website. The crash site — which officials said is called Black Water — is off County Road 315 near Northeast 212th Lane.

According to MCSO officials, Rawls was helping fight a fire between Fort McCoy and Orange Springs in the 12000 block of Northeast County Road 315.

He was picking up water when the helicopter lost power. In his last transmission, Rawls called in to say he was going down.

When he went down, the helicopter rolled over at least once, sheriff’s officials said. Rawls unbuckled himself and got out of the helicopter. Then he swam roughly 50 yards to the edge of the lake.

Officials said the helicopter is totally submerged — the only thing that could be seen is one blade sticking out of the water. The helicopter is one of three choppers in the Sheriff’s Office fleet.

Once out of the water, Rawls got on his cellphone and called for help.

It is an area of thick vegetation, and firefighters had to get a bulldozer to create a lane. They used all-terrain vehicles and used a backboard to get Rawls out at 6:52 p.m.

Sheriff’s officials described his condition as stable.

At the hospital, Sheriff Billy Woods, who saw Rawls at the hospital, told the Star-Banner that the veteran pilot and deputy was being examined by doctors and he had non-life threatening injuries. Rawls was complaining of back pain.

Woods thanked the U.S. Forestry Division for clearing a path for MCFR firefighters and deputies to be able to reach Rawls so he could be rescued.

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