Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Bell 206B JetRanger II, N770HP: Fatal accident occurred August 23, 2022 in Whiteside, Marion County, Tennessee

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. 

Investigator In Charge (IIC): Read, Leah

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

Additional Participating Entities:
Ian Mullins; Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Nashville, Tennessee
Rolls Royce; Indianapolis, Indiana
Transportation Safety Board of Canada; Quebec
Bell Textron; Hurst, Texas

Tennessee Highway Patrol

Tennessee Department of Safety


Location: Whiteside, Tennessee 
Accident Number: ERA22FA383
Date and Time: August 23, 2022, 14:47 Local
Registration: N770HP
Aircraft: Bell 206B
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Public aircraft

On August 23, 2022, about 1447 central standard time, a Bell 206B helicopter, N770HP, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Whiteside, Tennessee. The pilot and the passenger/observer were fatally injured. The helicopter was operated as a public use aerial observation flight.

The helicopter was operated by the Tennessee Department of Safety. The pilot was a sergeant with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and the passenger/observer was a detective with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.

According to the Tennessee Department of Safety, the pilot and the passenger / observer had been conducting a joint-agency marijuana eradication mission that day and stopped for lunch and fuel at the Marion County Airport (APT) in Jasper, Tennessee, at 1248. The pilot purchased 48 gallons of Jet A at 1251. After lunch, a call came in requesting back up for a pursuit that the Tennessee Department of Safety was engaged in. The pilot felt the pursuit would be over before they arrived to assist. Then a call came in about a missing person case that the passenger/observer was working and was not associated with the eradication mission. The pilot and passenger / observer departed at 1401 and flew to a set of coordinates of where the missing person was believed to be. The missing person was not located, and the helicopter returned to join the eradication efforts.

A witness was driving eastbound on Highway 24 toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, when he observed a “dark colored helicopter” headed westbound just north of the interstate. The witness was talking on the phone to his wife, and he told her how concerned he was that the helicopter was flying very low and near a set of powerlines. The helicopter did not appear to be in distress. The witness then saw the helicopter strike the powerlines and observed an “arc.” The helicopter spun a few times and it appeared as if the pilot was trying to regain control. The witness said the helicopter descended out of view. At the same time, a broken section of a
powerline cable fell on the highway in front of his vehicle. He was unable to stop in time and ran over the cable.

The helicopter came to rest in heavily wooded and steep mountainous terrain on the west side of the powerlines. The nose of the helicopter was embedded in the ground on a ravine wall with the tail section pointed straight up in the air. There was no post-impact fire. The tail boom (minus the tail rotor) separated from the helicopter just aft of the horizontal stabilizer and was located downhill of the helicopter. This section of tail boom exhibited an impact mark consistent with contact of the main rotor blade. The tail rotor (minus one blade) was located approximately 100 ft east of where the helicopter came to rest and under the powerlines. Damage to the tail rotor and tail rotor gearbox was consistent with impact damage. The other tail rotor blade was not located. The top portion of the vertical stabilizer had also separated from the helicopter and was found under the powerlines and adjacent to a set of train tracks located north of where the helicopter came to rest. The fractured area of the vertical stabilizer exhibited striated gouging marks consistent with contact with power lines.

One of the two main rotor blades remained partially attached and was fractured just outboard of the doubler. Examination of the blade revealed striated impact marks on the bottom of the blade about 2/3 outboard of the blade root. These striated marks were consistent with impact with the powerline. The other blade separated just outside its doubler and was found uphill of where the helicopter came to rest. The trailing edge tip of the blade exhibited arcing.

The wreckage and a handheld GPS unit were retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Bell 
Registration: N770HP
Model/Series: 206B
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built:
Operator:
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: CHA, 688 ft msl
Observation Time: 14:53 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 15 Nautical Miles 
Temperature/Dew Point: 30°C /18°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered / 4500 ft AGL 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: / ,
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 25000 ft AGL
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.97 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Jasper, TN (APT) 
Destination: Whiteside, TN

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 34.99754,-85.50975

Rotorcraft crashed under unknown circumstances on a mountain side after hitting high tension powerline. 

Date: 23-AUG-22
Time: 20:00:00Z
Regis#: N770HP
Aircraft Make: BELL
Aircraft Model: 206
Event Type: ACCIDENT
Highest Injury: FATAL
Total Fatal: 2
Flight Crew: 1 Fatal
Pax: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Missing: No
Damage: UNKNOWN
Activity: PUBLIC USE
Flight Phase: EN ROUTE (ENR)
City: WHITESIDE
State: TENNESSEE

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation may contact them by email witness@ntsb.gov, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email assistance@ntsb.gov. You can also call the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290.

A witness to the August 23 Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter crash that killed the trooper pilot and a Marion County Sheriff’s Office detective saw the aircraft clip a TVA power line before it spun out of control and plunged out of sight, a National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report states.

The witness was on Interstate 24 headed east toward Chattanooga when he saw the helicopter overhead a few minutes before 3 p.m. CDT, according to an NTSB preliminary report released this week.

“He observed a ‘dark colored helicopter’ headed westbound just north of the interstate,” the preliminary report states. “The witness was talking on the phone to his wife, and he told her how concerned he was that the helicopter was flying very low and near a set of power lines. The helicopter did not appear to be in distress. The witness then saw the helicopter strike the power lines and observed an ‘arc.’

“The helicopter spun a few times, and it appeared as if the pilot was trying to regain control. The witness said the helicopter descended out of view,” the report states. “At the same time, a broken section of a power line cable fell on the highway in front of his vehicle. He was unable to stop in time and ran over the cable.”

According to the report, the helicopter crashed in the steep mountainous terrain of Aetna Mountain west of the CSX railroad tracks that cross I-24.

Marion County Detective Matthew Walker Blansett and Highway Patrol Sgt. Harold Lee Russell were killed when the Bell 206 helicopter owned by the Tennessee Department of Safety hit a high tension power line, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA said it has no record of accidents or incidents for the helicopter that crashed and no record of accidents, incidents or enforcement actions for Russell.

Blansett, 40, of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, was a longtime veteran officer with the Sheriff’s Office and also served as a Marion County commissioner alongside his father, Don Blansett. Blansett’s mother and sister also serve in public office. The pilot, Russell, 35, of McKenzie, Tennessee, had flown many missions in the Chattanooga region, according to authorities.

The NTSB report contained a Tennessee Department of Safety account of the helicopter’s day closely resembling an account given to the Times Free Press by Marion County Sheriff’s Office Detective Gene Hargis.

Blansett and Russell had been conducting a joint-agency marijuana eradication mission that day and stopped for lunch and fuel at the Marion County Airport in Jasper, the report states. Russell purchased 48 gallons of fuel, and after lunch, a call came in requesting backup for a police pursuit, but Russell felt the pursuit would be over before they arrived to assist.

Then a call came in about a missing person case that Blansett was working, not associated with the eradication mission, the report states. Blansett and Lee departed at 2:01 p.m. CDT and flew to a set of coordinates where the missing person was believed to be. The missing person was not found, and Blansett and Lee returned to join the eradication team, the report states.

Hargis’ last words to the two men as they left that day from a lunch of Subway sandwiches were, “Y’all be careful, boys,” the detective said in a phone interview Aug. 26.

In the preliminary report, NTSB investigators describe a violent impact.

“The nose of the helicopter was embedded in the ground on a ravine wall with the tail section pointed straight up in the air,” the report states.

There was no indication of fire. The tail boom appeared to have been struck by one of the helicopter’s two rotor blades, the report states, and there was rotor blade damage consistent with striking a power line, including signs of arcing on the trailing edge of one of the blades.

A handheld GPS device found at the site was retained along with the aircraft wreckage, the report states.

The helicopter wreckage was recovered Aug. 25 and taken to an undisclosed facility in Springfield, Tennessee, for further examination, an NTSB spokesman said Tuesday in an email.

Typically, an NTSB investigation takes a year to two years for a final report, but it’s possible an interim report will be issued at the halfway point before a final report is issued, the NTSB said.


Matt Blansett
~

Lee Russell with his helicopter in 2013
~



A state trooper and a Marion County deputy died in a helicopter crash in Marion County on Tuesday afternoon. 

THP Captain Travis Plotzer said, "Today is a very tragic day for law enforcement, we appreciate all your support."

The pilot was Sgt. Lee Russell, a veteran helicopter pilot for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

Flying with him was Marion County detective Matt Blansett, who also was a member of the Marion County Commission. A Jasper resident, he represented Commission seat C.

The chopper was doing surveillance work seeking to identify trails leading to drug hideouts, stolen vehicles, etc. 

The helicopter clipped into a powerline by I-24 not far from the 1-24/I-59 split. Traffic was initially halted in the vicinity of the crash, but the roads were later reopened.

The helicopter continued on after hitting the power lines. Shortly before 7 p.m. the helicopter was located with help from TVA. 

The crash site was at a remote area of Aetna Mountain.

The location where the power lines were clipped was on SR-134 at Post Trail.

The Federal Aviation Administration was investigating.

In 2013, the THP announced the assignment of Trooper Russell to West Tennessee. He was a native of McKenzie, Tn. and he graduated from the University of Tennessee Martin. He initially served with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office as a rotorcraft and fixed wing pilot for the 24th Judicial Drug Task before graduating from the THP Trooper Cadet Academy in 2010. Afterward, he was assigned to the Aviation Section and he underwent advanced flight training focusing on airborne law enforcement techniques.

“Our pilot is always on-call, ready to respond anywhere he is needed in west Tennessee. Trooper Russell has excelled in all areas of his advanced training and will no doubt prove to be a great asset to public safety in west Tennessee,” officials of the THP said in 2013.


Scott County Sheriff's Office - 

Our deepest condolences for our Tennessee Highway Patrol family and that of Sergeant Lee Russell, along with his passenger, a Marion County Sheriff's Deputy, were both killed this afternoon in a terrible helicopter crash while serving the citizens of the State of Tennessee. God bless these dedicated law enforcement officers and their families during this unimaginable time. 

-Sheriff Phillips & Staff


MARION COUNTY, Tennessee (WVLT) - Two people were killed in a helicopter crash in Marion County Tuesday afternoon, according to officials.

In a press conference Tuesday night, Tennessee Highway Patrol officials confirmed that one of their troopers and a Marion County Sheriff’s Office deputy died in the crash.

“While the investigation is ongoing, please give the families their privacies,” a THP spokesperson said. “Today is a very tragic day for law enforcement.”

The Scott County Sheriff’s Office identified the trooper in the crash as Sergeant Lee Russell.

The FAA told WVLT News that a Bell 206 helicopter struck a power line and crashed in a wooded area on Aetna Mountain near Whiteside, Tennessee, around 4:00 p.m. on Auguse 23. Officials said it had been recovered as of Tuesday evening.

Dan Hostetler was heading back to Chattanooga on the interstate when he said he saw a black helicopter flying in circles, describing it as moving “erratically.”

“It kind of dipped a little bit and waggled a little bit then there was a bright flash of light and puff of smoke and it hit one of the power lines that went across the highway and sure enough the power lines started gliding down toward me and all I could think was it’s going to land on top of me,” Hostetler said. “I slammed on the brakes and stopped about 2 car lengths from the line.”

A Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesperson confirmed that the helicopter struck the power lines crossing Interstate-24 at mile marker 163, causing them to fall across the roadway.

As a result, I-24 East was closed and I-24 West was reduced to one lane through the area. The spokesperson said that TDOT crews assisted with traffic control.

A crash site was identified on SR-134, so it was also closed on both ends. Both roadways have since reopened, according to TDOT.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the crash. The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation, according to an FAA spokesperson.

10 comments:

  1. It’s still unknown why the helicopter contacted the power lines. It could have been in the process of crashing due to another reason, and the contact with the power lines was incidental. Until the wreckage is examined, you do not know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent job at stating the obvious.

      Delete
    2. JWC: That was in response to a previous comment that has since been deleted by the moderator. It was both excellent and appropriate in that context

      Delete
  2. Power lines and mountains do not give way to anything. Having done search and rescue in fixed wing it was drilled into us for the pilot to fly and the observer to observe and never try to do each other's job at the same time. Its quite hard to maintain the separation of duties when things get interesting and both begin searching the ground and by loss of situational awareness unfortunately drift into an obstacle or in some cases do illogical things like and uncoordinated turn that leads to a stall or fixate much too long and run out of fuel. A sad loss of two good people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is not what happened with Trooper Lee Russell.
      Everyone should wait for the official findings.
      You may be trying to sound intelligent and knowledgeable...you are not either.

      Delete
  3. Sgt Russell spent part of the day before his death helping search for a missing juvenile in Tipton County, about 250 miles away in the opposite end of the state.

    RIP to two dedicated public servants.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The helicopter was equipped with wire cutters....obviously they can't save the day in ever scenario. Very sad event.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seriously, the wire strike protection system in the picture looks gigantic! However I guess you have to hit it head on.

      Delete
  5. LTE followed by collision with powerlines maybe?

    ReplyDelete

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