Saturday, June 04, 2022

Bell 407GX, N98ZA: Accident occurred June 04, 2022 at Essex County Airport (KCDW), Caldwell, New Jersey

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 traveled to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Teterboro, New Jersey
Rolls Royce; Indianapolis, Indiana

Registered to 98ZA LLC

Operated by  Zip Aircraft

Location: Fairfield, New Jersey
Accident Number: ERA22FA257
Date and Time: June 4, 2022, 12:01 Local 
Registration: N98ZA
Injuries: 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Positioning

On June 4, 2022, about 1201 eastern daylight time, a Bell 407 GXP helicopter, N98ZA, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Fairfield, New Jersey. The commercial pilot was seriously injured. The helicopter was operated by Zip Aviation as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 positioning flight.

The helicopter departed Essex County Airport (CDW), Caldwell, New Jersey, about 1147 and was destined for John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York, New York. A review of archived automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) data showed the helicopter in a cruise profile on a southeasterly track about 500 ft mean sea level (msl). 

Preliminary air traffic control data and a review of the helicopter’s onboard video system revealed that about 2 miles south of Teterboro International Airport (TEB), Teterboro, New Jersey, the pilot requested to return to CDW. When asked by the TEB controller if he needed assistance, the pilot said no. The helicopter reversed course, and as it approached CDW, the pilot was cleared to land on runway 28. The helicopter crossed the runway threshold about 150 ft msl and 33 knots groundspeed. The helicopter generally maintained its altitude and groundspeed over the runway for about 10 seconds before it slowed, climbed, and turned to the right.

Airport surveillance video captured the helicopter’s approach, its alignment with the runway, and its slowing as the nose pitched upward. As the helicopter slowed, the nose yawed to the right, the helicopter became unstable, and started to descend vertically while rotating around the main rotor mast. Seconds into the vertical descent, the right yaw slowed, stopped, and the helicopter rotated to its left for the remainder of the vertical descent to ground contact. After ground contact, the main rotor continued to turn and the main rotor blades continued to strike the ground, ultimately shedding about 50 percent of the span of each blade. The helicopter sustained substantial damage to the fuselage and tail boom.

A postaccident examination revealed that the tail rotor crosshead drive plate, in place behind the pitch change rod attachment nut, was not bolted to the tail rotor crosshead as prescribed. The two attachment bolts were not present, and there were no remnants of any bolts in their threaded receptacles in the crosshead as shown in figure 1. Further, the threads were undamaged and showed no signs of corrosion, deformation, smearing, or cross-threading.

Main rotor flight control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit through several breaks to each respective rotor blade. Tail rotor control was confirmed from the pedals through breaks to the tail rotor gearbox to the pitch control rod. Movement of the pitch change push-pull tube resulted in smooth movement of the pitch change rod; the attached tail rotor crosshead drive plate moved with the pitch change rod, but independently of the crosshead to which it was no longer bolted.

According to the operator, the tail rotor was installed the day before the accident following the replacement of 4 “feathering bearings.” The director of maintenance (DOM) had performed the task and said that he prepared the tail rotor assembly for installation by laying the parts out on a maintenance cart. He then performed the installation and had one of his mechanics verify the mast nut torque. He then “finished” the installation and had another “verify” the work. A company pilot completed a preflight inspection of the helicopter and performed “ground functional checks” and three consecutive maintenance runs to affect balancing of the tail rotor.

According to the DOM, between the mast nut torque application and completion of the installation, he was “called out” to consult on two different aircraft repairs. He could not recall how much time elapsed before he returned to the installation of the tail rotor assembly.

Non-volatile memory was recovered from onboard avionics and the video recording system and retained for further analysis.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N98ZA
Model/Series: 407
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built:
Operator: Operating Certificate(s) Held: Commuter air carrier (135)
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KCDW,171 ft msl
Observation Time: 12:05 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 0 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 26°C /9°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 5 knots / , 260°
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.88 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: Company VFR
Departure Point: Caldwell, NJ (CDW)
Destination: New York, NY (JFK)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Serious 
Latitude, Longitude: 40.875225,-74.28135 (est)

A helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff at Essex County Airport in Fairfield on Saturday, injuring the pilot, police said.

The Bell 407GX with only the pilot aboard, crash-landed in the grass near the fence at the edge of the airport at 12:11 p.m.

First responders found the pilot, who was identified as a 33-year-old man from Marietta, Georgia, still in the cockpit. He was extricated from the helicopter and taken to the hospital by the West Essex First Aid Squad, Fairfield Police Chief Anthony Manna said. He described the man’s injuries as severe.

The cause of the crash is under investigation, Manna said. But it appears the pilot was taking off and heading to pick up a private charter when the crash occurred on the north side of the airport near Runway 28, he said. Manna described the pilot’s injuries as severe.

One witness told police that the helicopter had risen to between 100 and 150 feet off the ground when it began to spin. No one on the ground was injured, he said.

The aircraft is operated by Zip Aircraft which is located at the airport, according to police. The Federal Aviation Administration has been notified and the cause of the crash is under investigation.

A hazardous materials unit from Nutley was at the scene to take care of a fuel leak, but there was no report of a fire. The airport remained closed Saturday afternoon following the crash.

A helicopter crash-landed at an airport in New Jersey early Saturday afternoon, injuring the pilot operating the aircraft, police officials said.

Police and FAA officials said the helicopter came down at Essex County Airport shortly after 12 p.m. The aircraft, a 2015 Bell Model 407, landed near runway 28 on the north side of the airport.

First responders found the 33-year-old pilot from Georgia slumped over in the pilot seat, "partially leaning out of the cockpit," a news release from Fairfield Police said. He was transported to a local hospital to be treated for head injuries.

A preliminary investigation conducted in the first hours after the crash found the pilot had departed from the airport bound to collect a private charter before the incident. Police said a witness saw the helicopter spin in the air before hitting the ground.

No one else was on board the helicopter when it landed.

A joint investigation was being conducted by local fire and police departments, as well as the FAA. The Nutley Fire Department's Hazardous Materials Team was dispatched to help contain a fuel spill on site.

Officials temporarily closed the airport in the aftermath of the crash.

Rotorcraft crashed under unknown circumstances into a fence at at Essex County Airport (KCDW).

Date: 04-JUN-22
Time: 16:37:00Z
Regis#: N98ZA
Aircraft Make: BELL
Aircraft Model: 407
Event Type: ACCIDENT
Highest Injury: SERIOUS
Aircraft Missing: No
Activity: PERSONAL
Flight Phase: UNKNOWN (UNK)
Operation: 91


  1. Track (zoomed in):
    KCDW 041605Z 26005KT 10SM CLR 26/09 A2988
    KCDW 041553Z VRB05KT 10SM CLR 26/09 A2989

    1. Flight path looked in control... got about 10 miles out and decided to return back. Flight path back looked good until the very end. Possibly a medical issue maybe... he didn't feel right, decided to go back but just didn't make it. That was a hell of a hard hit, I wouldn't doubt he broke his back looking at how much damage it had, as well as whatever was ailing him. Hope he makes it.

    2. Preliminary report shows lost bolts/tail rotor pitch control defeated.

  2. Where are the skids to the chopper? If thee’s no skids, why is there no further damage to the bottom of the frame? But there’s a dent near the top of the door and rotor? Is this a mock event or training? Certain things on some crashes and incidents don’t add up. Maybe it’s my inexperience, but i have been on scene afterwards of several aircraft crashes from a distance. Some small and others that were spread across the side of a mountain. Thanks for providing this website documenting the crash incidents. The other one with an aircraft by the side of a road with dirt tracks, wing damage, but no fence damage doesn’t make sense either.

    1. A skid is visible at the lower edge of the closeup photo, identifiable by looking for the gray flotation bags that are attached to the runnner. Look where the door is laying inside-up beside the bird - the flotation bag and skid it is mounted on will be easy to spot just forward of that door.

      Roof is pushed down because weight of engine and all the mechanicals up top bent the cabin structure down during the slam into the turf.

      Use this photo to understand where the flotation bags are mounted:

  3. Also, where is the tailrotor? Or is this similar to coast guard choppers that take off and land like airplanes?

    1. What are you talking about? The tail rotor clearly got broken off on impact. Also what do you mean by CG choppers taking off like conventional fixed wing aircraft?

  4. Replaying the accident time to see other aircraft finds Cirrus N706PD nearby on taxiway N, just having landed on RW4. Depending on what N98ZA's pilot had intended, seeing the Cirrus nearby on the taxiway could have been a factor. A previous landing of N98ZA on June 1st provides an example track for reference. Note: What is offered below is not intended to suggest that the Cirrus is at fault.

    Here is the Cirrus N706PD track, including taxi:

    Here is the example N98ZA arrival track from June 1st:

    Here are both aircrafts June 4th tracks together on one display:,a96c21&lat=40.878&lon=-74.278&zoom=15.8&showTrace=2022-06-04&trackLabels

    Time tags in ADS-B show the Cirrus about to make the turn onto taxiway N from a RW4 landing rollout at 16:00:30. At 16:01:55, the Cirrus is beyond taxiway A that the helicopter hover taxi'd along in the June 1st example arrival.

    N98ZA time tags in ADS-B show that the helicopter's turn away from what had been a straight incoming track occurred after the 16:01:07 data point, at which time the Cirrus would have been near the intersection of taxiways N and A.

    Note the circled H near taxiway A on airport diagram of KCDW:

  5. This accident is a reminder to look close during preflight inspection.

    Preliminary report with photo shows that bolts went missing from the tail rotor crosshead drive plate, first flight after maintenance.

    Loss of those two bolts would not have occurred if safety wire had been installed on them. Shop personnel were called away during the work and the safety wire step was obviously not performed.

    You can see safety wired crosshead drive plate bolts in this exemplar Bell 407 tailrotor photo (select full screen to enlarge)

    Preliminary report:

    1. A single cotter pin installed.
      Keep it Locked
      There are three basic methods to prevent the
      disengagement of hardware or components:
      1) safety wire, 2) cotter pins, and 3) self-locking nuts.
      Wire: usually stainless steel, used on cylinder studs, control cable turnbuckles, and engine accessory attaching bolts. Cotter pins: used on aircraft and engine controls, landing gear, and tailwheel assemblies, or any other point where a turning or actuating movement takes place. Self-locking nuts: used in applications where they will not be removed often; repeated removal and installation will cause the self-locking nut to lose its locking feature. There are many other parts that require safety wire or other means of locking. FAA Advisory Circular AC 43.13-1B outlines the various locking methods
      and the proper safety wiring procedures.

    2. Quoting the 43.13 advice doesn't help much...the guy left the bolts out!
      Properly tightened fasteners used in a well designed joint don't rely on safety wire to stay tight, either. There is often no safety wire or any locking device on very critical fasteners- connecting rod bolts are a good example. Bolt stretch and friction are all that keeps them there. Very good rod bolts (not lycoming/continental) are sometimes "torqued" by actually measuring linear stretch. A torque wrench is merely convenient and adequate, but not the best way.
      If you look at and poke at nicely done safety wire, you will rarely notice any that is drum tight, no matter how long it was been there. The slightest bit of slack shows you that it is not "holding " the bolt tight at all, the bolt is doing that itself...the safety wire is just a backup. For it to matter, the bolt had to back off a bit, which only happened because something else is wrong. I.E. somebody left it loose, tightened against thick paint that then squished out, bad joint with relative part movement, etc. If you DO see very tight safety wire, say.... on your oil filter? Somebody may have backed it off a couple of degrees after wiring it so that they appear to be the amazing guy that makes his safety wiring so neat. Not really kosher, but harmless..the rubber gasket is thick.
      Seeing safety wire is also a sign (Not infallible) that someone actually paid attention to the installation of it also, rather than just threading it in loosely, say, for alignment , then forgetting about it.
      This accident is, of course, due to an obvious mistake, but it sounds like the guys was distracted, and did what distracted hurried humans do..overlook things.
      Not a good job to be rushed in..those American airlines guys saved some time changing the left engine on the flight 191 DC-10...1979. It didn't turn out as well as this oversight did.

    3. Thank you for that link of a properly wire nutted assembly for comparison to the accident helicopter. Perhaps a maintenance issue was missed and preflighting missed this. As mundane as preflighting can be, being anal about it might have prevented the last flight.

    4. @Lasty - At first glance it would seem that the bolts were left out, particularly since there was no smearing of the threads in the bore, but notice that there were three balance runs done and the pilot had tail rotor pitch control at the beginning of the accident flight or he would have spun before getting away from the field.

      Bolts were there for the balance run and accident departure. Maybe only fingered-in and not torqued, but they were in place.

  6. This accident deserves a KR side panel featured posting, "First Flight after Maintenance"

    1. Great idea.
      N509AM in July 2010 comes to mind, where the test flight after engine removal was abbreviated and the second flight then expierienced the separation of the fuel boss and loss of power at near max gross with crash despite autorotation when avoiding power lines just before landing.

    2. Omitted safety wire on a tail rotor pitch control linkage pivot bolt caused a Bell 407 crash in 2003 of N991SP but nobody was injured.

      In that "after maintenance" instance, the mechanic who was working the tail rotor gearbox area had his supervisor inspect the area, supervisor found the pitch channel trunnion attach bolt installed but not tight or safety wired, asked the mechanic to correct the problem, later asked the mechanic if the work was complete but supervisor did not verify it again visually. The tail rotor gearbox cowling was then installed. Bolt fell out about 5 hours of flight time later.

  7. Remarkable that so many people could look directly at the end of a tail rotor shaft that had bolts with holes in the bolt heads intended for safety wire and not immediately recognize that the safety wire was omitted.
    - Mechanic who did the work
    - "Verifier" who checked the work
    - Pilot who preflighted for the three balance runs
    - Mechanic who did the balancing
    - Accident pilot's preflight

    1. the suspension of their specific privileges / licenses are in order, including insurances policies.

    2. This video of a pilot's 407 preflight includes image and verbal mention at 29:20 to "Make sure that all of the cotter pins and safety wire are properly installed" as part of the pilot's tail rotor inspection and pitch control link visual/wiggle checks.

      Safety wire not being present should stick out like a sore thumb if you had been seeing it there all of the previous times you checked pitch links during preflights.

      Link (cued to 28:11):