Friday, April 30, 2021

Bell 429 GlobalRanger, N53DE: Fatal accident occurred April 28, 2021 in Eden, Rockingham County, North Carolina

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.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Greensboro, North Carolina
Transportation Safety Board of Canada; Gatineau
Pratt & Whitney Canada
Bell Flight Safety; Ft Worth, Texas
Duke Energy Aviation; Charlotte, NC

Duke Energy Business Services LLC

Location: Eden, NC 
Accident Number: ERA21FA195
Date & Time: April 28, 2021, 13:24 Local 
Registration: N53DE
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 2 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Aerial observation

On April 28, 2021, about 1324 eastern standard time, a Bell 429 helicopter, N53DE, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Eden, North Carolina. The commercial pilot was fatally injured, and two passengers were seriously injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 powerline patrol.

Preliminary Federal Aviation Administration Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS–B) data indicated the helicopter departed the steam station patrolling the transmission powerlines to the north, then returned on the west side of the powerlines heading south. As the helicopter approached the intersection of the north/south and east/west powerlines the pilot began to reverse course by turning to the right. As the helicopter turned right, witnesses reported hearing a “pop” followed by the helicopter descending until it impacted a tree.

A lineman onboard the helicopter seated in the forward left seat recalled that the pilot was reversing course and the helicopter was in a banking turn to the right, when he heard a very loud noise, “almost cannon like, very deep, within a second or two we were heading into the trees.”

The accident flight was witnessed by bystanders located near the steam station. One witness driving west bound observed the helicopter cross the road heading south bound flying low over the trees along the powerlines. The helicopter made a right turn before it disappeared behind trees. Two other witnesses observed the helicopter flying from east to west over the trees before making a steep left turn. The witnesses stated they could see the underside of the helicopter and skids before it “slid at an angle downward and disappeared into the woods.”

The helicopter came to rest on the right side of the fuselage about 393 ft from the powerlines, at an elevation of about 570 ft. All major components of the helicopter were accounted for at the accident site.

The debris path was about 183 ft long on a 245° heading. Flight control continuity was not confirmed due to a postcrash fire that consumed the cockpit of the helicopter. Remnant carbon fiber layup was present in the area of the upper cowlings, fuselage skin, and doors. The cockpit, cabin floor, and the transmission and engine deck were present but sustained heavy thermal damage. The avionics and wiring were strewn outside the nose section, with pieces of wood branches embedded within the wiring.

The main rotor hub remained attached to the main rotor mast. The two yoke assemblies remained installed with the mast nut intact. The main rotor blades remained installed to their respective grips via blade pins. All blade attachment hardware was present and secured. All four blade tips exhibited impact damage and their spars exhibited a broomstrawed appearance. Three separated leading edge pieces near the tip end, including the tip cap lap joint, were found in the debris field (surrounding the main wreckage). All four main rotor blade pitch horns remained intact, and all four pitch change links were connected to their respective pitch horns and the rotating swashplate. The main rotor gearbox was partially separated from the airframe due to impact and thermal damage.

The tail rotor was hanging to one side of the gearbox due to fracturing of the output shaft and bending of the pitch control rod. The two tail rotor yokes remained installed on the tail rotor output shaft and were whole. The tail rotor blades remained installed on the yokes. Each blade’s entire span was present. The yaw hydraulic actuator remained attached to both the airframe and its control bellcrank within the tailboom. The control tube (aft of the yaw hydraulic actuator) was fractured in multiple locations. The forward tail rotor drive shaft assembly was continuous to the cooler fan shaft. The cooler fan remained attached to the airframe but was crushed from impact. The tail rotor drive train was fractured in multiple locations aft of the cooler fan.

The helicopter was configured with only the pilot flight controls installed in the right cockpit seat.

Various thermally degraded control clevis connections and bellcranks were found in the main wreckage site, but the majority of the cockpit flight control system was consumed by the postcrash fire.

The left and right hydraulic pumps were found separated from the main gearbox and were thermally damaged.

The helicopter was equipped with two Pratt and Whitney PW207D1 engines, both of which remained installed on the engine deck.

The engine data monitors, electronic engine controls and health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) units were recovered and retained for data download.

The helicopter wreckage was recovered and retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N53DE
Model/Series: 429 
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: SIF,693 ft msl
Observation Time: 13:15 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 7 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 27°C /15°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 7 knots / , 220°
Lowest Ceiling:
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.04 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: Company VFR
Departure Point: Danville, NC (DAN)
Destination: Burlington, NC (BUY)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 2 Serious
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: N/A 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal, 2 Serious
Latitude, Longitude: 36.497132,-79.718455 (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

Shane 'Cookie' Keebler 

Shane said good bye to his wife Joni, his sons Mason and Reese, for the final time on Wednesday Morning,  April 28th, 2021.  Shane was fatally injured after the helicopter he was piloting crashed while conducting aerial power line inspections.  His family; Joni, Mason, and Reese were his life and their happiness and security was paramount to him.  To help lift them up and provide the needed financial support during this dark time, we started this support page.  Your generous gift will provide financial security for the day to day expenses for Joni and her two sons.

Prior to his early departure for Heaven, Shane spent over 21 years in the United States Military.  Enlisting first in the United States Navy, serving 9 years as a Navy Diver.  He transitioned over to the United States Army where he learned the skill of flying helicopters.  He brought that skill to Duke Energy in 2016 and was responsible for “Keeping the Lights On” year after year as well as quick response flights in support of Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael, and Hurricane Dorian, just to name a few.  Though he had thousands of flight hours and held the highest level of FAA qualifications, one would never know.  His humility was one of the many great traits Shane held dear.  

As outstanding a pilot as he was, he was a far better man. A family man first, he would always lead conversations with his wife and boys, how they were, and what they were up to. He was a ‘give the shirt off his back’ type guy.  The type of guy that showed up early, stayed late if it meant he could help the family, his friends, and the crew.   He was kind beyond measure, extending courtesies no matter how tired he may have been.   He was understanding and empathetic no matter the circumstances.  He found the good in everyone and went out of his way to tell you what your strengths were.  He was direct and to the point.  One might say "Shane kept it real".
-Fair Winds and Following Seas Shane-

Psalm 34:18

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

EDEN, North Carolina — Duke Energy officials identified Shane Keebler as the pilot killed in the helicopter crash in Eden on Wednesday. Officials said two other passengers were injured in the crash. 

Duke Energy released the following statement on Keebler's death: 

“Our hearts are broken by the loss of our teammate, Shane,” said Donna Council, Duke Energy senior vice president of administrative services. “This tragic event is deeply saddening for us, particularly for his team who flew alongside him day in and day out. We are keeping Shane’s family, friends, co-workers and community in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time, as well as his teammates and their families while they recover.”

The Duke Energy helicopter crashed after 1 p.m. near the Duke Energy plant and off South Edgewood Drive. 

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a Bell 429 helicopter crashed while the pilot was conducting power line work near Rosewood Lane. There were three people on board, the FAA said. The helicopter and crew were employed by Duke Energy and were surveying power lines at the time of the crash.

Two passengers escaped the flames and the crash wreckage. One man was transported to UNC-Rockingham hospital and the other airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Health Care. Emergency services said the two men were able to communicate and were conscious. 

The FAA and NTSB were at the scene of the wreckage on Thursday to begin investigating what caused the crash. A preliminary report could come out in a couple of weeks, but a full report could take several months or a full year. 

Emergency crews said the crash resulted in a fire in a wooded area. There was a heavy fuel load and crews worked to extinguish the fire. Emergency responders located the pilot who was found dead after extinguishing the fire at the crash site.

Initial reports were that the helicopter crashed into a house but those reports were not confirmed, according to Rockingham County Emergency Services. They also said, the entire crash site was located in the woods and no residences were impacted. No power outages occurred as a result of the crash.

The FAA will be joined by the National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday as they help to investigate and remove the wreckage. 

"The FAA will release the tail number of the aircraft after investigators verify it at the accident site. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate. The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and will provide additional updates. Neither agency identifies people involved in aircraft accidents," the agency said in a news release. 

An environmental cleaning agency will assist with any environmental impacts from the crash.

Duke Energy released the following earlier Wednesday afternoon:

Shortly after 1 p.m. today, we received word of an incident near the Dan River Combined Cycle Station involving a Duke Energy helicopter. We are currently investigating the incident and are working with local emergency management officials. We will provide additional information as appropriate.

Multiple agencies helped in the response including Rockingham County EMS, Eden Rescue Squad, Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office, Eden Fire, Draper Fire, Leaksville Fire, Shiloh Fire who responded with fire suppression foam, Virginia Air Life, Wake Forest Air Care, Eden Police, NCSHP, Rockingham County Emergency Management, Rockingham County Fire Marshal’s Office, NC Emergency Management and the FAA.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

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