Saturday, August 22, 2020

AgustaWestland AW139, N32CC: Fatal accident occurred July 04, 2019 in Big Grand Cay, Bahamas

David Jude
Geoffrey Painter

Killed in the July 4, 2019, crash off of Big Grand Cay in the Bahamas were Christopher Cline; his daughter, Kameron, 22; Brittney Searson, 21; Delaney Wykle, 23; Jillian Clark, 22; and pilots David Jude and Geoffrey Painter.

As two pilots prepared to land in the Bahamas in July 2019 on an emergency run to fly two sick newly graduated college students, two of their friends and the pilots’ billionaire boss to Fort Lauderdale, one remarked to the other: “I haven’t flown this thing in over a month until today.”

The co-pilot retorted “Bloody #,” a recently released National Transportation Safety Board transcript from the cockpit reveals. The transcript uses ”#” to replace expletives.

When the pilot, Jupiter resident David Jude, responds that the helicopter has been in “the # shop,” co-pilot Geoffrey Painter replies: “Has it? What’s been wrong with it?”

Jude’s answer would in retrospect prove unnerving: “Every # thing,” he said.

The pilots landed in the pre-dawn hours of July 4 on coal magnate Christopher Cline’s private Big Grand Cay in the Bahamas and soon set off on their medical run with five more passengers.

Within minutes, the 15-passenger Agusta SpA AW139 crashed, killing all seven onboard.

More than a year after the July 4, 2019, crash new details of the tragedy have emerged in National Transportation Safety Board reports released on Aug. 17.

Cline, 60, the self-made West Virginia coal billionaire whose homes included a mansion in northern Palm Beach County, had gathered with family members and their friends for a celebration of his July 5th birthday on his island in Abaco.

The chopper, piloted by Jude, 57, with co-pilot Painter, 52, went down in the ocean about one minute after taking off, records show. Their last utterance came at 1:53 a.m., nine seconds before the transcript stopped.

Besides Cline and the two pilots, on board were Cline’s daughter Kameron, 22; Brittney Searson, 21, her best friend and classmate at The Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens and at Louisiana State University, where they had graduated just two months earlier; Delaney Wykle, 23, a childhood friend of Kameron’s; and Jillian Clark, 22, another recent LSU graduate and fellow sorority member of Kameron’s.

About 15 to 20 family members and friends had been arriving on the island by helicopter, fishing yacht and seaplane, according to a witness statement given to investigators by Robert Hogan, Cline’s property manager on Big Grand Cay and his friend for 38 years.

People were playing chess, riding Sea-doos and playing music. They had dinner, and Hogan said he was present with everyone until 11 p.m.

Shortly after, Hogan said he was informed by a host that Kameron Cline and a friend had become ill. Hogan described the young women as “groggy and unresponsive,” and told investigators he was not sure of the cause.

Hogan said he also learned that Jude, one of Cline’s regular corporate pilots, was flying to the island to transport the two ill women, along with Cline and the other two passengers, to the United States for emergency medical attention.

The flight plan shows the helicopter having arrived from Walter’s Cay Airport in the Bahamas, and bound for Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, where U.S. Customs was still open at that hour.

It landed on a helipad on Big Grand Cay between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. and remained on the ground with the engines running, Hogan said. The passengers boarded and the two sick young women had to be helped onto the plane and strapped in.

Cline even brought a puppy dog with them.

‘Warning terrain. Warning terrain’

The chopper lifted off, turned right, climbed three to four stories high, and accelerated with its nose down over the west end of the island for the 30-40 minute flight to Fort Lauderdale, where authorities were alerted to have two ambulances waiting for Kameron and her friend.

According to Hogan and another witness, George Russell, who was on a dock with six other people, the takeoff appeared normal. But he told investigators that he then saw the chopper’s “lights moving funny, the lights went out, and he heard an impact.”

The cockpit voice recorder shows the pilot and co-pilot in discussion over routine pre-flight steps until Painter says at 1:52:30 a.m. “Alright airspeed coming up. No, it’s not coming up. So push that nose forward. Get some airspeed.

Within seconds the sounds of an electronic voice and a warning tone filled the cockpit.

Jude asks at 1:52:56, “How high are you and three seconds later answers his own question, “Three-hundred feet.”

Painter says, “We’re not” and Jude replies “That’s what it says over here.”

An electronic voice repeats “Warning terrain. Warning terrain.”

“Yeah, we were diving,” Painter says at 1:53:05.

Eight seconds later, he adds: “There was a fatal accident in the UK and this is exactly what happened there.”

Jude asks “Give us a heading” three times.

And then the human voices stop. The electronic voice keeps repeating “Warning terrain. Warning terrain.”

At 1:53:22, there’s the sound of an impulsive noise.

The electronic voice says “Bank angle. Bank angle.” And finally “Rotor low,” before recording stops at 1:53:28.

Something was amiss

Hogan said he went to bed that night, and arose at 6 the next morning and began his day as usual.

He said he began to realize something was amiss when he learned that the helicopter never made it back to the hangar where it was stationed at Palm Beach International Airport. Jude was supposed to fly Cline’s other son, Logan, to the island that day.

Hogan began calling the U.S. Coast Guard, hospitals and anyone else he could think of to see if anyone had heard from Cline. No one had. He asked the Coast Guard to begin a search.

Later that day, he learned that people on the island had heard a strange sound, like a thud, around the time the helicopter took off.

By early afternoon, a search team, including Cline’s chef and party planner, boarded a fishing boat and headed into the ocean where witnesses said they heard the strange sound.

They spotted the wreckage, the chopper’s wheels still extended, in an oily spot in the water. A diver spotted the bodies, still strapped to their seats.

They were removed from the wreckage and brought to shore where Hogan said he identified them.

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

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration Office of Accident Investigation; Washington, District of Columbia
Leonardo Helicopters; Cascina Costa
Pratt & Whitney Canada; Longueuil, Quebec 
Air Accident Investigation Department; Nassau New Providence
Transportation Safety Board of Canada; Ontario 
European Aviation Safety Agency; Cologne 
Agenzia Nazionale per la Sicurezza del Volo

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Big Grand Cay, Bahamas
Accident Number: ERA19FA210
Date & Time: 07/04/2019, 0154 EDT
Registration: N32CC
Aircraft: Agusta AW139
Injuries: 7 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On July 4, 2019, about 0154 eastern daylight time, an Agusta AW139, N32CC, owned and operated by Challenger Management LLC, was substantially damaged when it impacted the Atlantic Ocean near Big Grand Cay, Abaco, Bahamas. The commercial pilot, airline transport pilot rated copilot, and five passengers were fatally injured. The helicopter was being operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for a flight from Walker's Cay Airport (MYAW), Walker's Cay, Bahamas, to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The flight departed from a concrete pad at Big Grand Cay, which was located about 5 nautical miles (nm) southeast from MYAW, about 1 minute prior to the accident.

The purpose of the accident flight was to transport two of the passengers to FLL for medical treatment.

The helicopter departed from Palm Beach International Airport (PBI), West Palm Beach, Florida, about 0057, and a witness reported that it landed on the concrete pad at Big Grand Cay between 0130 and 0145. After landing, the helicopter remained on the ground with the engines operating, while the passengers boarded. During the subsequent takeoff to the east, the witness reported that the helicopter climbed to about 30 to 40 ft and accelerated while in a nose-down attitude. He did not notice anything unusual while he observed the helicopter depart.

Another witness, who was located about 1.6 nm southwest of the accident site reported seeing the helicopter lift off and climb to between 40 and 50 ft above ground level; then shortly thereafter, he noted blue and white lights spinning to the left at a rate of about 1 to 2 seconds between rotations while descending. He estimated that the helicopter rotated to the left three to four times. He then heard a "whoosh whoosh whoosh" sound, and lost sight of the helicopter, which was followed by the sound of an impact. The witness reported what he had heard to the "caregiver" of Big Grand Cay. The witness went out on his boat about 0205 and used spotlights to search the area where he thought the helicopter had crashed but was unable to locate it.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued an alert notice for the overdue flight about 1521. The helicopter was subsequently located by local residents sometime between 1600 and 1700, in about 16 ft of water about 1.2 nm north-northeast of the departure point.

The helicopter was found inverted and the tailboom was separated from the aft fuselage and was recovered in multiple pieces. All five main rotor blades were separated but recovered. The tail rotor assembly, which was also separated was subsequently recovered. All four tail rotor blades were separated, and one tail rotor blade was not recovered. The recovered wreckage was retained for further examination, to include examination of the airframe, engines, flight controls, seats and restraints.

The helicopter was equipped with a multi-purpose flight recorder, an enhanced ground proximity warning system and several additional components capable of storing non-volatile memory, which were retained for evaluation and data download.

The accident investigation was initially under the jurisdiction of the Air Accident Investigation Department (AAID) of the Bahamas. On July 6, 2019, in accordance with Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the AAID requested delegation of the accident investigation to the NTSB, which the NTSB accepted on July 8, 2019. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Agusta
Registration: N32CC
Model/Series: AW139 No Series
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Challenger Management LLC
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Night/Dark
Observation Facility, Elevation: MYGF, 8 ft msl
Observation Time: 2000 EDT
Distance from Accident Site: 46 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 29°C / 25°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 2500 ft agl
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 4 knots / , 160°
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 25000 ft agl
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.95 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Departure Point: Big Grand Cay, FN

Destination: Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 2 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 5 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 7 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 27.238056, -78.304444

Employees oversee the arrival of the bodies of four women and three men at the airport in Nassau, Bahamas.


  1. Lots of detail in the docket. No defect in the helicopter. Dark conditions for departure complicated difficulties experienced during transition to auto flight.

    Description of the departure, based on Flight Data Recorder readout:

  2. So yet another case of pilot error? With 2 seasoned professionals flying, I would have assumed something mechanical or electrical caused the crash.

  3. So like Kobe he was a wealthy and talented self made man and managed to trust 2 individuals that were probably running a struggling business (thanks to the pandemic) and messed up taking 5 innocent lives with them.
    I can't stress this enough... don't do the crime if you can't do the time, and don't do the private flying if you can't fly it yourself and trust ourself enough to care for the lives of your loved ones. Or else Part 121 is the golden standard. Yes the plebes enjoy a far greater safety margin in their metal tubes packed like sardines.

  4. I have no preconceived notions of the victims character or his motivations based on his social standing or wealth. From what I gather he was a pretty good guy. What I'm seeing is probably a substandard helicopter operation with substandard maintenance. The pilots were not proficient and the transition to instruments was lacking. Case closed.

  5. Probably should have maintained some medical supplies as part of the support functions at Mr. Cline's island facilities. The report indicates that he routinely invited medical staff as guests, as was the case on the accident weekend.

    Would be easy to contract with a mainland EMS provider to recommend the kit contents and coordinate restocking and expiration dates. Being able to do something if there was a ski-doo accident, a fall down stairs, stingray barb or food allergy would be good planning for island stays.

    If pre-staged medical supplies were available and adequate, the night flight may not have been required. The pilots would not have faced a dark hole IFR challenge after sunup.

  6. Can't really consider this a standard night flight as it was after 1:00am. That's in the middle of the night, at best. Circadian rhythms cannot be disrupted with the expectation of a good outcome. Absolute poor judgement in most ares of the whole event. Fully functioning autopilot and FMS! NTSB shows a history of both pilots showing weakness in FMS operation.