Friday, December 11, 2020

Robinson R44 Astro, N7085Z: Fatal accident occurred December 10, 2020 in Colorado City, Mitchell County, Texas

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; Lubbock, Texas
Robinson Helicopters; Torrence, California 
Lycoming Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania 

Buford Copter Company LLC

Location: Colorado City, TX
Accident Number: CEN21LA084
Date & Time: December 10, 2020, 09:30 Local
Registration: N7085Z
Aircraft: Robinson R44 
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Business

On December 10. 2020, about 0930 central standard time, a Robinson R44 Astro helicopter, N7085Z, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Colorado City, Texas. The commercial helicopter pilot and passenger sustained fatal injuries. The flight was being conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to a family member, the intent of the flight was to herd cattle on a ranch about 20-miles south of Colorado City, Texas. The flight originated from the pilot’s home helicopter pad about 0900. There were no reported radio or distress calls from the pilot, and there were no witnesses. The weather was VFR and clear skies.

The accident was reported to local authorities about 1400. The helicopter wreckage was located on flat, rural terrain, and the debris field was about 400-yards long. The first pieces of wreckage were identified as fragments of the left landing skid and forward skid strut. About 30-yards forward of the strut, fragments of one main rotor blade skin were found. The main wreckage, consisting of the cabin, main rotor assembly, and tail boom and rotor assembly were found about 400-yards from the left landing gear skid and strut fragments. There was no evidence of an in-flight collision with fixed obstacles.

The wreckage debris was consistent with an in-flight break-up at low altitude, A tail rotor driveshaft was found twisted and fractured forward of the aft flex coupling. The fracture and twist were consistent with a sudden stoppage in-flight. The tail rotor gearbox rotated by hand more than 360-degrees with no anomalies. The tail rotor blades exhibited minor dents on the outer skins, with no damage to the leading edges. The tail rotor pitch control operated properly. The main rotor blades exhibited impact damage near mid-span, and damage to the leading edge of the spars, which separated sections of skin and honeycomb.

The nose of the cabin showed impact damage consistent with main rotor blade contact. Paint transfer marks on the damaged portions of the main rotor blades, and the left side of the landing gear strut were consistent with the shape of a main rotor blade spar. There was paint transfer in the damaged areas of both main rotor blades. The main and tail rotor flight controls had several fractures. The surfaces of the fractures were angular and jagged, consisted with overload. The tail rotor pedals were found jammed with the left pedal forward. Other than impact damages and separations, flight control continuity was established from the cockpit throughout all flight controls.

No anomalies were found with the engine. Rotation continuity was established from the engine to gearboxes, and rotational signatures were present on rotating components.

Logbooks for the pilot, airframe, and engine were requested but not provided.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Robinson 
Registration: N7085Z
Model/Series: R44 Astro
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Agricultural aircraft (137) 
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KSNK,2430 ft msl 
Observation Time: 09:35 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 23 Nautical Miles 
Temperature/Dew Point: 18°C /-2°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 6 knots / , 200°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.93 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Colorado City, TX
Destination: Colorado City, TX

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 32.315621,-100.94719

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 

We are starting this GoFundMe to help out the Whitesides Family after the sudden passing of Zane. Zane is leaving behind his wife and two young children, 100% of the proceeds will go to his family to help get them through this time. Any and all donations are appreciated, if you are unable to donate please lift up this family in prayer. 

Richard Zane Whitesides
FEBRUARY 13, 1989 – DECEMBER 10, 2020
Richard Zane Whitesides was born on February 13, 1989 and passed away on December 10, 2020 and is under the care of Kiker-Seale Funeral Home.

In memory of Zachary Pfeuffer

Zachary Daniel Pfeuffer
SEPTEMBER 19, 1988 – DECEMBER 10, 2020
Zachary Daniel Pfeuffer was born on September 19, 1988 and passed away on December 10, 2020 and is under the care of Kiker-Seale Funeral Home.

COLORADO CITY, Texas (AP) — Authorities say two men were killed when a helicopter crashed in a field in West Texas.

Mitchell County Sheriff Patrick Toombs said Friday night that the helicopter crashed Thursday just southwest of Colorado City.

Toombs said the pilot, 31-year-old Zane Whitesides, and the passenger, 32-year-old Zack Pfeuffer, were killed.

Both were from Colorado City.

Toombs said he believed they were headed to a ranch to help move cattle.

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