Monday, May 8, 2017

Robinson R44 Astro, N981RR, registered to Spitzer Helicopter LLC, and operated by Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours: Accident occurred May 05, 2017 in Santa Barbara, California

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

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Van Nuys, California
Lycoming Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Robinson Helicopter Company; Torrance, California

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: WPR17LA097
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, May 05, 2017 in Santa Barbara, CA
Aircraft: ROBINSON HELICOPTER R44, registration: N981RR
Injuries: 3 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 5, 2017, at 1402 Pacific daylight time, a Robinson R44, N981RR, lost engine power and landed hard following an autorotation near Santa Barbara, California. The helicopter was registered to Spitzer Helicopter LLC, and operated by Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours, as a revenue sightseeing flight under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The flight instructor and two passengers sustained serious injuries, and the helicopter was destroyed by post impact fire. The local flight departed Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, Santa Barbara, California, about 1345. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed.

The flight was planned to be a standard 20 minute "City Tour" for the two passengers, which included a roundtrip flight from the airport to the Santa Barbara Zoo area, about 10 miles east.

The outbound flight was uneventful with the pilot requesting a special VFR (visual flight rules) clearance due to low cloud ceilings. On the return leg, the weather had not improved, and the pilot requested a special VFR clearance to land. The airport controllers directed the pilot to hold outside of the airport's airspace due to landing traffic, and the pilot circled the city for about 10 minutes until the landing request was granted. He then proceeded to follow the 101 Highway west towards the airport, and a brief time later he noticed that the engine began to lose partial power, coincident with the clutch actuator light illuminating. He reset the clutch actuator circuit breaker while evaluating his landing options. He began to maneuver the helicopter for landing at a golf course, rather than the highway or congested areas below, and a few seconds later the helicopter lost all power.

He immediately initiated an autorotation, with the intention of landing on the golf course. During the final stage of the descent, he realized he would not be able to reach the grass area due to a wall, so he landed just short in a parking lot. During the landing flare, the helicopter's main rotor blades struck the roof of a building, and the helicopter landed hard, spreading both skids. All occupants egressed from the helicopter, while the golf course superintendent, who heard the impact, attempted to extinguish a fire which had developed at the rear of the helicopters fuselage. Within a few minutes the fire had spread, ultimately engulfing the main cabin as the local fire department arrived about 5 minutes later.

Multiple witnesses reported seeing an object fall from the helicopter as it flew over the highway, and post-accident examination revealed that the engines number 3 cylinder head assembly and piston were missing. A search was conducted by volunteer search and rescue personnel from the Santa Barbara County Sherriff's Department, and the assembly was located the following day, in a field about 1/4 north of the wreckage location.

At about 2 p.m. on Friday, a single-engine helicopter with Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours crash landed in La Cumbre Country Club’s parking lot after experiencing mechanical problems while completing a ride along the coast. The three passengers managed to get out of the copter just before it was consumed in flames. They were transported to Cottage Hospital with moderate injuries.

According to County Fire Department spokesperson Capt. Dave Zaniboni, the male pilot notified the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport tower, where the chopper is based, that he needed to make an emergency landing. The copter crashed into two vehicles in a maintenance area near a diesel and gasoline fueling station in the parking lot. Firefighters arrived on the scene and put out the fire quickly before it spread.

The helicopter was a 2001 Robinson R44 registered out of Riverside. The 260-horsepower machine seats four. The company has been offering various aerial views of Santa Barbara County seven days a week for about six years. Before that, the company operated a helicopter touring company in Oxnard.

A woman who answered the phone at Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours identified herself as the mother of the pilot. She said before hanging up, “I am already upset and worried about it so don’t ask me any questions about it.”

Westmont alumni Courtney Crosby and Turner Conrad were listed in fair condition at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital on Monday, recuperating from injuries suffered when the helicopter they were flying in crashed at La Cumbre Country Club. Pilot Michael Ower was released from the hospital.

The pilot and two passengers of a tour helicopter that crashed in Hope Ranch on Friday are recovering from the ordeal after being taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Michael Ower, the owner of Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours, was released from the hospital by Monday, said Cottage spokeswoman Maria Zate.

The two Westmont alumni traveling with him, Courtney Crosby and Turner Conrad, were listed in fair condition.

The trio were hospitalized with moderate injuries after the helicopter, which had toured Santa Barbara’s harbor and downtown area, went down near the La Cumbre Country Club at 4015 Via Laguna Drive near Santa Barbara.

The three were able to extricate themselves from the wrecked aircraft, which caught on fire after a fuel spill caused by the crash.

Westmont College President Gayle Beebe told attendees of Saturday’s graduation that Crosby, a graduating senior and volleyball player, missed the day’s commencement ceremony due to a surgery to repair several injured vertebrae, but that she was expected to fully recover.

Westmont spokesman Scott Craig told Noozhawk that a family member of Conrad, Crosby’s boyfriend who graduated in 2016, had told him both “are doing OK,” but need rest and rehabilitation.

The R44 Robinson helicopter was owned by Spitzer Helicopter, a Riverside County company, and leased to Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours, which is based at the Santa Barbara Airport.

Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department told Noozhawk that the chopper had finished its tour and was headed back to the airport when it encountered mechanical problems.

Ower told the airport tower it was going down, Zaniboni said.

It then crash-landed in a maintenance area of La Cumbre Country Club, skidding into several vehicles in a parking lot.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident, was still pending on Monday afternoon.

Original article can be found here:

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- A helicopter returning from a tourist flight crashed and burned at a golf club Friday, injuring three people on board, authorities said.

The Robinson R44 Astro went down around 2 p.m., said Ian Gregor of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The helicopter, based at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, had just finished a tour of the harbor area and was returning to the airport when it developed a mechanical problem and crash-landed in the parking lot of the club maintenance area, Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.

The rotorcraft hit two vans, but nobody on the ground was hurt.

The male pilot and the passengers, a man and a woman, were able to get out of the helicopter before it caught fire, Zaniboni said. They were taken to a hospital with moderate injuries, he said.

The fire gutted the vans and incinerated the chopper except for its tail.

FAA records show the aircraft is registered to Spitzer Helicopter LLC, a Riverside-based helicopter leasing company.

The company's president, Eric Spitzer, said the helicopter has been leased by a tour company in Santa Barbara for the last three years and he hadn't spoken to the pilot after the crash Friday.

The helicopter, a 2001 Robinson R-44, was inspected by the FAA last week and is checked before every flight, Spitzer said. An FAA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the helicopter's most recent inspection.

Original article can be found here:

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