Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bell 206B experimental helicopter, registered to TRE Aviation Corporation and operated by Van Horn Aviation LLC for research and development flight testing under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, N61PH: Fatal accident occurred April 16, 2019 in Fort McDowell, Maricopa County, Arizona

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

Additional Participating Entities:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Scottsdale, Arizona
Rolls-Royce; Indianapolis, Indiana
Van Horn Aviation; Tempe, Arizona

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Fort McDowell, AZ
Accident Number: WPR19FA109
Date & Time: 04/16/2019, 0706 MST
Registration: N61PH
Aircraft: Bell 206
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Flight Test 

On April 16, 2019, at 0706 mountain standard time, a Bell 206B experimental helicopter, N61PH, impacted an alfalfa field, about 1 mile south of Fort McDowell, Arizona. The commercial pilot and pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured. The helicopter was destroyed. The helicopter was registered to TRE Aviation Corporation and operated by Van Horn Aviation, LLC for research and development flight testing under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a flight plan was not filed. The second leg of the test flight originated from Falcon Field (FFZ), Mesa, Arizona at 0632.

The purpose of the flight was to evaluate developmental main rotor blades that had been installed on the helicopter. According to the operator, the helicopter was fueled for two test flight legs. The helicopter departed at 0545 for the first event and returned at about 0620, parked on the ramp with the engine at idle, and 100 lbs. of ballast was added to the helicopter. Preliminary radar data showed that the helicopter departed at 0632 to continue the second leg of the test flight. The test flight legs consisted of multiple autorotations at maximum gross weight involving a simulated loss of engine power. The accident flight was the last test flight of the main rotor blades before the certification process.

A witness who was walking to a bus stop, about 1/3 mile northwest of the accident site on Fort McDowell road heard a loud bang southeast of her position. She saw the helicopter falling from the sky and used her phone to video record the helicopter and several other objects descending to the ground before losing site of it behind trees along the road.

Initial examination of the main wreckage revealed postcrash fire and impact damage consistent with a right side-down, nose-level attitude during ground impact. The main rotor hub assembly, vertical tail, tail rotor assembly, tail rotor driveshaft, and forward induction cowl fairing separated from the main wreckage and was found in the debris field. The debris field was about 1 mile long and 1,000 ft wide, covering an area of wooded desert terrain and flood irrigated alfalfa fields. The wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

The helicopter was manufactured in 1981 and was equipped with a Rolls-Royce 250-C20B engine. The helicopter was registered to the owner in January 2019.

The 0654 automated weather observation at FFZ, located about 12 miles to the south of the accident site, included wind from 130° at 5 knots, visibility 10 miles, and clear skies.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Bell

Registration: N61PH
Model/Series: 206 B
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Van Horn Aviation
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions

Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KFFZ, 1380 ft msl
Observation Time: 1354 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 10 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 18°C / 1°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 5 knots / , 130°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Altimeter Setting: 29.89 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Mesa, AZ (FFZ)
Destination: Mesa, AZ (FFZ)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 2 Fatal

Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: Unknown
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 33.623611, -111.675556

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 

Stephen Louis Estes
August 20th, 1990 – April 16th, 2019

Stephen Louis Estes, born August 20th, 1990, the second twin with his brother Nathan. He grew up as an active member of North Phoenix Baptist Church. While Stephen received Christ as his Lord and Savior at the age of 4, he continued to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus. He served in NPBC Children’s Ministry all through his college years, actively volunteering with a passion for children’s ministries.

Stephen graduated from the I.B. Program at North High School in 2009, and was a state champion and All-American swimmer. He graduated from ASU’s Barrett Honors College with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, and a Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering. He was a member of the ASU Swim Team, competing in National and Olympic Trials after recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury suffered in 2012; a testament to his resilience and strength. At ASU he was honored as an Academic All American for his excellence in the classroom and pool. He received many other awards for his volunteer work and scholastic performance.

In 2015 he met the love of his life, Morgan Acino, and they married May 12, 2017. They adored each other and treasured day-to-day activities and worldwide travel adventures. He was a member of the team at Van Horn Aviation, most recently as Engineering Manager. His tragic death in a helicopter crash reflects that he was living his dream and passion for flying. He will be dearly missed by all who knew him, especially his wife, Morgan, and extended Estes and Acino family members. He is survived by his wife, Morgan Acino Estes, parents Ron and Renee Estes, his twin brother Nathan, and siblings Aaron, Hillary (Ryan key), nephews Colton and Nolan, Grandmother Margaret Dodez, Grandmother Jeannette Estes, and numerous other family members. His family expresses gratitude for the worldwide support and prayers through this tragedy. A Celebration of Stephen’s life will be held at 1:00, Redemption Church – Tempe, 2150 E Southern Ave, Tempe, AZ on Monday, April 22nd. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Sun Devil Swimming Association, PO Box 872205, Tempe, AZ 85287.

Rucie Moore

Test pilot Rucie Moore, left, and Van Horn Aviation engineering manager Stephen Estes, right.

FORT MCDOWELL, Arizona  — There are many questions surrounding the safety of the helicopter that crashed in a field near Fountain Hills on Monday morning, killing two people on board.

The victims have been identified as contract experimental test pilot Rucie Moore and Van Horn Aviation engineering manager Stephen Estes.

Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety board have confirmed investigators are now looking into the "airworthiness" of the helicopter that crashed.

Court documents show the chopper had a history of trouble.

According to a complaint filed by the Federal Aviation Administration against the Tre Aviation Corporation to whom the aircraft was registered, the helicopter was purchased by an aviation mechanic in Scottsdale in 2004.

Documents state the helicopter was in bad shape. It had no engine and the fuselage was corroded beyond repair. The mechanic used parts from another helicopter he had purchased to rebuild the chopper. Many of the parts used in the repair came from a helicopter with no data plate or deemed ineligible for operation.

Aviation experts say like cars, it is not uncommon for aircraft like planes and helicopters to be "parted out" to rebuild or help reconstruct other aircraft.

The company that Estes worked for "specializes in the design, testing, certification, and manufacturing of composite rotor blades for various helicopters" according to their website.

An NTSB spokesman says investigators are still in the early stages of the investigation, but structural problems and faulty parts are two major areas they will be exploring as they try to piece together the wreckage, and figure out what caused the helicopter to crash.

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