Thursday, May 3, 2018

Robinson R22 Mariner, N923SM: Accident occurred May 02, 2018 in Panama City, 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;  Vestavia Hills, Alabama 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:


Location: Panama City, FL
Accident Number: ERA18LA140
Date & Time: 05/02/2018, 1000 CDT
Registration: N923SM
Aircraft: ROBINSON R22
Injuries: 1 Minor
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Positioning 

On May 2, 2018, about 1000 central standard time, a Robinson R-22 Mariner helicopter, N923SM, was substantially damaged during a forced landing to water near Panama City, Florida. The commercial pilot received minor injuries. The flight was operated in accordance with Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a positioning flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the flight that departed Perry-Foley Airport (40J), Perry, Florida at 0830, and was destined for Destin Executive Airport (DTS), Destin, Florida.

The pilot reported that 90 minutes after departing 40J, while in cruise flight at 80 knots and 800 ft mean sea level (msl), the helicopter slowly started losing airspeed; he pushed the cyclic forward, but the airspeed kept decreasing and the helicopter was beginning to lose altitude. He continued to push the cyclic forward until it hit the stop and realized he had no cyclic authority. The pilot stated there was no forward airspeed and the helicopter continued to descend until it impacted the water. The helicopter floated briefly until it was struck by waves and rolled inverted.

A pilot flying in formation with the accident helicopter noticed that the helicopter slowed from about 80 knots to 30 knots in about 15 seconds. The pilot further reported that the helicopter was descending in a reverse gliding attitude and struck the water with the tail boom first, before rolling upside down.

Examination of the helicopter by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed that the main rotor blades were deformed, the fuselage was structurally damaged, and the tail boom was partially separated. In addition, a tiedown rope and blade sock used to secure the helicopter blades on the ground was found tightly wrapped around the swash plate and pitch change links of the main rotor.

The two-seat, semi-rigid single-main-rotor, single-engine helicopter, was manufactured in 1991 and was issued a standard airworthiness certificate. The helicopter was equipped with floats and was powered by a 160-horsepower Lycoming O-320-B2C series engine.

At 0953, the weather recorded at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport Panama City (ECP) Florida, included no clouds or restriction to visibility, wind from 140° at 9 knots, and visibility 10 statute miles. The temperature was 20°C, and the dew point was 18°C. The altimeter setting was 30.27 inches of mercury.

The wreckage was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: ROBINSON
Registration: N923SM
Model/Series: R22 MARINER
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operator: N923SM LLC
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KECP, 68 ft msl
Observation Time: 0953 EST
Distance from Accident Site: 12 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 20°C / 18°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 9 knots, 140°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Altimeter Setting: 30.27 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: PERRY, FL (40J)
Destination: DESTIN, FL (DTS) 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Minor
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Minor
Latitude, Longitude:

PANAMA CITY BEACH — The pilot of a Robinson R22 helicopter that crashed in the Gulf of Mexico near Carillon Beach Resort made it to shore safe and uninjured Wednesday morning, though the same could not be said for his aircraft.

Witnesses reported seeing the R22, a light, single-bladed helicopter about 28 feet long, flying with another, larger helicopter moments before the crash. Shauna Rutt, who was laying on the beach with her mother, remembered seeing the larger helicopter flying up and down the beach the day before. Helicopters are a common sight in the area, ferrying tourists out for spectacular views of the Gulf.

When the R22 began to lose altitude, she didn’t think anything of it. The aircraft had buoys on its skids allowing it to float and for a moment she thought the pilot was attempting a water landing.

“At first I thought, ’This is really cool, a landing right in front of us,” she said.

Then, she noticed the propellers were barely spinning. The helicopter took a nose dive into the Gulf and for several heart-stopping moments was submerged.

Less than a minute later, the helicopter popped back up to the surface with the pilot - the lone occupant - clinging to the buoy. Rutt said he climbed onto the helicopter, floating belly-up between the first and second sandbars, and waited for a rescue.

The crash triggered a massive emergency response, with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, Fish and Wildlife, US Coast Guard, Panama City Beach Police Department, Panama City Beach and Surf and even several lifeguards answering the call. Numerous first responders jumped on paddleboards and made their way out to the pilot, who made it back on shore with “just a little salt water ingestion,” according to BCSO Lt. Chad King.

Chriss and Monika Morrisson, who live nearby, ran down to the beach expecting the worst. They stood together on the white sand, nervously watching the Coast Guard vessel keeping an eye on the overturned helicopter.

“I am just so happy he walked away from it,” Chriss Morrison remarked.

After the excitement died down, the wreck attracted quite a crowd, with about two dozen bystanders out on the water line watching the upturned helicopter bob in the surf, a buoy emblazoned with “” sticking up in the air.

With the help of its two buoys and a decent wind, the wreck floated about a half mile west down the beach before drifting in far enough to get stuck on the first sandbar while emergency crews waited for the Federal Aviation Administration to respond and begin its investigation. At one point, the helicopter’s door was pushed open, the pilot’s belongings drifting away into the Gulf.

According to the FAA, the downed R22 Mariner was a commercial helicopter built in 1991 and was most recently registered in 2014. Also according to the FAA, an aircraft’s owner is responsible for removing an aircraft from a crash site. The FAA will be investigating the crash, and the National Transportation Safety Board will issue a probable cause.

When the R22 emerged from the Gulf later in the afternoon and was flipped right-side up, it was clear the crash could have been much worse. All of the glass had shattered in the impact, the snapped propeller hung at an awkward angle like a broken arm, and the tail lay several feet away, completely severed.

The name of the pilot has not yet been released. Efforts to reach were unsuccessful, but a website for the company says they operate out of West Palm Beach, shooting photos of boats, primarily at events, which they then sell back to the owners. Helicopters operated by the company, many of them the same R22 model or the slightly larger R44 model, have been involved in several accidents, including one near Oaks Island Pier in Brunswick County, North Carolina in 2012 and over Lake Travis in Austin, Texas in May 2008. 

Original article can be found here ➤

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