Saturday, April 25, 2020

Bell UH-1H Iroquois, N3276T: Fatal accident occurred April 24, 2020 in Mesa, Maricopa County, Arizona

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. 

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

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Scottsdale, Arizona
Honeywell Aerospace; Phoenix, Arizona 

Location: Mesa, AZ
Accident Number: WPR20LA130
Date & Time: 04/24/2020, 1600 MST
Registration: N3276T
Aircraft: Bell UH 1H
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Positioning

On April 24, 2020, about 1600 mountain standard time, a Bell UH-1H helicopter, N3276T, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident in Mesa, Arizona. The pilot was fatally injured, and the passenger was seriously injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 relocation flight.

Witnesses reported they observed the helicopter flying low towards Falcon Field Airport (FFZ), Mesa, Arizona, with white smoke coming from the rear rotor area. Suddenly, the tail rotor separated from the helicopter and landed in a dirt lot below. The helicopter continued northeast as it started to spin and impact the ground.

On scene examination by a Federal Aviation Administration Inspector indicated that the debris field was about 1/2 mile, extending along a generally northeast direction. The first identified piece of debris were fragments of glass, which were consistent with a navigation light on the vertical stabilizer. About 200 yards further northeast was the tail rotor assembly, and the input pinion gear assembly. The rest of the helicopter came to rest about ½ mile further northeast in an open, slightly sloped field. The first pieces of debris in the field were the vertical stabilizer and a portion of the horizontal stabilizer followed by two long and narrow ground strikes consistent with main rotor blade strikes. Immediately following this area was the main wreckage; the helicopter came to rest slightly nose, and left side low, along a heading of about 49 degrees. The helicopter exhibited upward crushing throughout the cabin and fuselage, most extensively on the left side of the fuselage. The mast and the main transmission were displaced forward, and the main rotor assembly was fracture separated. The main rotor blade assembly was the last major piece of debris located about 20 yards northeast of the main wreckage.

The helicopter has been recovered to a secure location for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Bell
Registration: N3276T
Model/Series: UH 1H No Series
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Southwest Rotors
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Agricultural Aircraft (137); Rotorcraft External Load (133) 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: IWA, 1384 ft msl
Observation Time: 1550 MST
Distance from Accident Site: 9 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 35°C / 0°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 6 knots / , 280°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.85 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Palm Springs, CA (TRM)
Destination: Mesa, AZ (FFZ)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Latitude, Longitude: 33.386111, -111.805833 (est)

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

Chip Paige

MESA, Arizona (3TV/CBS5) -- Mesa police say one man was killed and another was injured when a helicopter went down in a park Friday afternoon. It happened at Sherwood Park near Horne and the U.S. 60. Police say no one on the ground was hurt.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Bell UH-1H Iroquois crashed under unknown circumstances approximately 8 miles east southeast of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and 2 miles NW of Mesquite High School." On Saturday Mesa police confirmed that the helicopter was flying from Blyth, California to Falcon Field for unknown reasons. Parts of the helicopter came off and it went spinning out of control and crashed.

Arizona's Family News Chopper videographer Jerry Ferguson actually spotted the helicopter go down while he was driving home. "As I drove down U.S. 60, I looked up, and saw the helicopter fly directly over me, and it was kind of wiggling back and forth," said Ferguson. "As it came overhead, it completely lost control and started spinning down toward the ground." said Ferguson.

Ferguson said emergency crews were doing CPR on one man while the other man was alert. "The one man that I was there trying to help had cuts across his face and some on his body," said Ferguson.

Hayden Joseph, the man who was alert, was the pilot of the helicopter. He was taken to Banner Desert Hospital with minor injuries. The passenger, identified as 55-year-old Chip Page, was pronounced dead on the scene.

Paige is well-known in the aviation industry. He was the eyes for Los Angeles as a helicopter reporter for news stations in the mid-2000s. KNBC journalist Alex Vasquez worked with Paige for four years.

“He was one of those guys that was a journalist but also a good human-being,” said Vasquez. 

He said Paige guided him through wildfires and later on gave his expertise on how to cover the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others in January.

“Even when I mentioned to him about Kobe Bryant's helicopter crash, I remember him telling me, ‘You know what, Alex? That is never going to happen to me, because I take so much precaution when I’m in the air.’”

Vasquez says Paige obviously died doing what he loved: Flying. 

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash. The helicopter took off from Blythe, California, at 2:48 p.m.

Chip Paige

MESA, Arizona - An investigation is underway following a deadly helicopter crash in Mesa Friday afternoon.

According to Mesa Police officials, the crash happened at a park near Stapley and US-60. Fire officials say two people were onboard. Mesa Police officials have confirmed to FOX 10's Justin Lum that one of the two people has died. The other person has been taken to a hospital.  Police officials say no one on the ground was hurt.

Video taken by one FOX 10 viewer shows the helicopter spinning out of control in the moments before it crashed.

Witnesses described what happened in the moments before the crash.

"He was right over the house. I thought he was gonna hit the houses down here. He was low and it was spinning," said Cathy Lynch.

“Our house was shaking, and it was the loudest thing and I knew it was some kind of plane or helicopter crashing," said Lyndsey Fairbanks. The helicopter crashed across from her home. "I was just praying, like, please don’t crash into our house cause. It felt like it was so close to us."

“We watched the tail rotor just come off, and it wasn’t like in the movies where the helicopter starts spinning immediately. This guy, he managed to maintain control all the way up to this park right here before he, like, yanked the stick to slow down, coming down, and that's when he spun out and just lost control right there," said witness Jason Stuck.

Fairbanks said she, along with her husband and neighbors, ran out to the wreckage afterward.

"When they pulled him out, I knew he was not gonna make it," said Fairbanks.

FAA officials said the helicopter is a Bell UH-1H Iroquois. Flight records show it flew out of Blythe, California, just before 3:00 p.m. on Friday. The crash happened about an hour later.

An investigation is underway, but officials with the National Transportation Safety Board say they are not travelling to the scene of the crash, as of Friday night.


  1. Tragic , coming so close to probably a good outcome but as a fixed wing person with little knowledge of helicopters.
    Do you need your tailrotor in the final stage when you make an autorotation landing ?
    Tailrotor authority i mean , it falling off is always bad.....

    1. Read second paragraph of sheet 2 and second paragraph sheet 17, here:

    2. Thank you , very informative link .....

  2. When talking about the Kobe Bryant crash, he said it could never happen to him because he takes so many precautions.
    When you are in a chopper, you are only one major malfunction away from death. It probably will never happen, but........

  3. "It will never happen to me because..."

    As an aviator and mariner I avoid saying this for a reason: history is rife with the opposite being true in famous last words.

    1. Never say never is best, but since the quote was about the Bryant crash, taking precaution to not fly into foggy/no visibility conditions would preclude hitting obscured terrain, so that may be all he meant to convey. Mr. Paige did not fly into terrain in the fog.

      The pilot who was flying Mr. Paige in this circumstance had to overcome a tail rotor failure, not "get-the-boss-there-itis" in fog.

  4. Take a close look at the vertical fin spar.

  5. "That is never going to happen to me".
    Invulnerability - classic hazardous pilot attitude.

  6. When keen eyewitnesses saw the tail rotor come off, loss of tail rotor effectiveness (LTE) might suggest the pilot already knew something wrong and attempted an immediate landing before losing his tail rotor. Experienced pilots would react to disengage the engine by decreasing throttle to decouple the clutch. The free wheeling main rotor would be controlled with collective pitch to trade upward airflow to keep rotors spinning while losing altitude in an autorotation. This pilot may have done everything possible to avoid homes and people while jockeying this heli to a landing.

  7. They were fortunate anyone survived. The vertical fin at the 42 Degree gearbox area has always been a weak point in the H,N and 214 Huey airframes. I lost 2 friends when the vertical fin exited the airframe along with the T/R and gearbox. Extreme CG problem that was not recoverable. Whoever was flying the aircraft did a good job getting to where they crashed. Usually in that type of failure you end up getting a main rotor blade thru the cabin at the pilot's stations

  8. I was one of the witnesses to this. It was a very unfortunate day but I would like to note that based off of what I saw, the pilot did everything he could to put the helicopter in a safe place.

  9. Big difference between tail rotor control failure, (you still have the spinning disc, which is like a tail fin surface, aircraft can be flown to a run on forced landing. However, loss of tail rotor, is as bad as an engine failure as you need to enter autorotation flight (power off flight)to keep control. This case was even worse, as with the tail rotor and tail rotor gearbox coming off, there would have been a severe C of G problem, the aircraft would be very nose heavy....about as bad as it gets....

  10. Late to the game here, but wanted to add a few thoughts. First, condolences to the family and friends. I don't actually remember meeting Chip, but he insisted we did on a fire once. He used to call me every spring to see if I wanted to do relief work for him on fires. It never worked out, but we became friends just through our annual phone calls.

    A tail rotor failure is a completely survivable event, depending on what type of failure it is. The types include (but not exclusively): a complete or partial loss of the TR component and/or adjacent flight surfaces (the worst type); loss of thrust due to blades not spinning at all, or seriously reduced RPM; or a fixed pitch situation (ie, stuck pedals) which really isn't a true TR failure.

    As pointed out in above comments, if the entire assembly separates (as it sounds like it did), there is a serious CG (center of gravity) issue that may not be able to be overcome. Looking at the video, it looks like it doesn't have much airspeed and is very nose heavy, which it would be with two persons sitting forward of the CG. Full fuel would help counter that, along with any baggage they may have stowed aft of the CG point. Hard to know just how bad the out of CG limits they may have experienced. If CG wasn't too badly affected, there are two choices for handling a TR failure. First, and generally the easiest - if altitude and terrain permit - is to cut power completely and simply autorotate. That eliminates the torque problem, (if throttle is rolled all the way off), although there will be a bit of left yaw upon touchdown due to transmission drag.

    The second option - and one I'd try first if the helo is at all controllable - is to use the slip stream effect of forward flight using the minimum power necessary to maintain a somewhat straight and level, or slightly descending flight, (Although the aircraft will be yawing hard to the right while using power to maintain flight. The more power used, or slower the forward speed, the more the yaw). Then, with minimum maneuvering, look for a straight, level, and hard surface in the line of flight to do what is called a run-on landing. The key is to remain above ETL (Effective translational Lift - about 15 to 20 knots of air speed) and use the minimum power to bring the aircraft down in a shallow approach and land much like an airplane lands (only much slower). The heading just prior to and upon touchdown can even be controlled by careful and skillful manipulation of the throttle (if located on the collective control, that is). It's not something to attempt though, unless the pilot has a lot of experience in practicing this maneuver. Flight instructors would be very familiar with this technique.

    If after trying this method first the pilot determines he is not going to be able to maintain heading or control, he can then go back to the first option and autorotate. Some pilots prefer to ALWAYS enter an autorotation first, and then slowly bring back power to determine if the yaw can be controlled via slipstream. If altitude permits, that would probably be my choice as well, but generally speaking, helos fly at too low an altitude for this method. Once an auto is established, there probably wouldn't be enough room/time to bring it back to level flight to test the yaw control unless you started at at least 1000' AGL.

    Lastly, I always read by non-pilots in these sort of crashes how the pilot bravely and skillfully avoided homes, building, people, etc. Not to diminish his efforts, or any pilot so described, but of course he is going to try and avoid all of those things. Why on earth would any pilot aim for a building, or people, or a bus full of kittens? He is first and foremost trying to save his own life first, the aircraft second, as well as the lives and property of others on the ground. Avoiding any and all obstacles is the key to successfully doing that. A pilot who isn't able to avoid such obstacles isn't necessarily unskilled, just unable. I regret never getting the chance to work for Chip. He sounds like he was a great guy.


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