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Final Report On 2009 New Mexico State Police Helicopter Crash Is Published

The long awaited report on the New Mexico State Police- fatal helicopter crash (June 9th, 2009) was released late last month by the NTSB.  In many ways there are no real surprises in it.  It was expected that the NTSB would find fault with the pilot's decision to take off from the remote mountain landing zone, while surrounded by inclement weather and darkness.  I don't say that to be harsh on the pilot, it was just obvious that they would find fault with it.  But the report goes much deeper than that, examining every aspect of the New Mexico State Police aviation program, the pilot's duties within the State Police, sleep habits, etc.  Essentially no stone was left unturned.  The aviation community and particularly the police aviation community should welcome such thorough investigations.

It seems so redundant to say that we must learn from others mistakes, because that is what we say each and every time we discuss one of these cases.  But it is emphatically true.  To not study, learn, and discuss incident's such as this would be simply unprofessional. 

Each of us make mistakes on a daily or weekly basis, whether flying or on the ground, that potentially could cost us our lives.  The annual death toll on our nations highways proves this to be true.  Hence the old saying "There but for the grace of God go I."  It is in that vein that we look at this report.

The number of lessons that can be drawn from it are almost to numerous to mention.  One of the most glaring however is that this rescue mission into high altitude rugged terrain, in deteriorating weather conditions, in a complex aircraft, with darkness closing in, was undertaken essentially as a single pilot operation, and without the help of NVGs.  Yes there was another officer on board.  But that officer was an un-trained air crew member who had never been up in New Mexico State's police helicopter before that fateful day.  Be assured, one cannot place any blame at his feet.  The vast majority of patrol officers on any agency would have gladly stepped up and accepted the same mission.

As an un-trained air crew member this officer likely had no idea that he was an integral part of the air crew, who has equal authority to decline a mission or decline that take off from that mountain top landing zone in inclement weather.  Even if he had understood this, he did not have any air crew experience on which to base a decision. 

True the FAA gives final authority to the pilot in command.  But as a member of an air crew, with your life as much on the line, the TFO has absolutely as much say so as the pilot.  The saying "two to go, one to say no" means that both crew members have to agree before they can launch on a mission, but it only takes one crew member to say "no" they are not comfortable with the mission.  This rule can of course be invoked at any time, during any air mission.  Just because the TFO has not yet mastered the controls of a helicopter, or passed a check ride, does not mean that his or her concerns on the safe operation of the helicopter are any less valid. 

The NTSB seemed to find plenty of fault within the New Mexico State Police air unit and command.  To include; an attitude among some of the command that was not compatible with aviation safety, staffing issues within the air unit, specifically the lack of trained TFOs, the pilot in command having split duties as public information officer, and the complete lack of any type of risk assessment. 

I will not re-hash the entire report here.  Instead I would encourage anyone who flies, whether you are a member of an air crew or not, to read the report and take your own lessons from it. 

The entire 77 page report can be read here

R.I.P Sgt. Andrew F Tingwall, and Megumi Yamamoto (student from Tokyo)

NTSB Updates Factual Report On Fatal CHP Air Crash

 CHP Officer Dan Benivides Pictured with his Cessna T206.

On February 23, 2011 the NTSB updated it's Factual Report on the fatal crash of a CHP Fixed Wing Cessna aircraft that crashed on May the 7th 2010 while on patrol in the area of Borrego Springs California.  

The pilot and sole occupant, CHP Officer Dan Benivides (39), stopped communicating with dispatch after working a speed detail with ground units.  A report of smoke eventually led searchers to the crash site on the side of a mountain in the area of Borrego Springs, in the north eastern portion of San Diego County.  Officer Benivides was fatally injured in the crash.

According to the NTSB's February 23rd update, Officer Benivides likely suffered a "cardiac event" prior to the crash, according to the San Diego County Coronor's Office.  The NTSB's factual report reads in part;

"In the medical examiner's opinion section of the report it states ".. it is possible that a cardiac event due to fibrosis and/or ischemia due to his longstanding coronary arthrosclerosis could have precipitated the crash." Updated on Feb 23 2011 2:00PM"

The following excerpt from the NTSB report talks about the final 4 minutes or so of the airplane's radar track just prior to the accident. 

"At 0940:43, the track turns southwest on a steady course of 225 degrees magnetic at 1,200 feet msl. This route was away from the highway and towards the rising mountainous terrain. The final radar return was at 0943:55, 1.7 miles northeast of the accident location. The accident location is located directly on the extended course line of 225 degrees from the last radar return, at the 1,070-foot elevation level. The highest terrain elevation in the vicinity of the accident site is 1,500 feet msl." 

The aircraft was also equipped with an auto pilot and according to CHP Officials the pilots are encouraged to use the auto pilot to lessen workload. 

The radar data coupled with the information from the San Diego County Coroner's Officer certainly leads one to conclude that the crash was most likely the result of a medical incapacitation of the pilot.  While this in no way lessens the tragedy of the loss of Officer Benivides, his family and co-workers can know that the crash was probably not pilot error, and that Officer Benivides was a professional and capable pilot and CHP Officer.

The following excerpt is from the Police Helicopter News Page and was written by me in the days following the crash:

"Officer Danny Benavides attended the 2005 CHP Air Crew course in San Diego with this writer.  Officer Benavides is the second law enforcement officer from the class of 2005 to lose his life in an air crash, the first being Deputy Kevin Patrick Blount of the Sacramento Sheriff's Office killed in the crash of his Eurocopter EC-120 helicopter on July 13th 2005.  The cause of that crash was determined to be a fuel control valve that was installed backwards at the factory.  Since 2005 Officer Benavidez had stopped into ASTREA base in his CHP fixed wing on several occassions all of which involved great conversation, swapping of airborne law enforcement stories, and a many laughs.  On at least one occassion I had taken over a vehicle pursuit from Officer Benavidez south bound on the I-15.  His voice was one that I could always recognize when it came up on the air.  It will be missed.  Police Helicopter Pilot.com sends it's condolences to the Benavides family."


NTSB Releases Preliminary Report On Pima County Sheriff Helicopter Crash

While I know it is best to wait for the full report and all of the facts.  It is still human nature to ask what went wrong.  I am asking myself if this was a tail rotor strike.......

NTSB Identification: WPR11GA115
14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Monday, January 31, 2011 in Marana, AZ
Aircraft: MCDONNELL DOUGLAS HELI CO 369FF, registration: N530RL
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 2 Serious, 1 Minor.

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.

On January 31, 2011, about 1115 mountain standard time, a McDonnell-Douglas 369FF helicopter, N530RL, was substantially damaged during an attempted pinnacle landing on Waterman Peak near Marana, Arizona. The pilot received fatal injuries, two passengers received serious injuries, and one passenger received minor injuries. The public-use flight was operated by the Pima County Sheriff's Department (PCSD) in support of the Pima County Wireless Integrated Network (PCWIN) communications development project. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight.

The purpose of the flight was to enable PCWIN personnel to conduct a site survey for the planned installation of a communications-repeater tower. The helicopter departed Tucson International Airport (TUS), Tucson, Arizona, about 1050, with the PCSD pilot/deputy in the left front seat, two Pima County employees in the right front and rear seats, and a private contractor in the left rear seat. Initially, the flight was in communication with, and being tracked by, TUS local and TRACON air traffic control (ATC) facilities as it headed for the peak, located about 30 miles west-northwest of TUS.

The 1053 TUS recorded weather observation included winds from 300 degrees at 9 knots with gusts to 16 knots; visibility 10 miles; and a broken cloud layer at 7,000 feet.

The passengers reported that during the landing attempt, the helicopter either bounced or the pilot lifted off again, the nose pitched down, and then the helicopter began to spin to the right.

The helicopter tumbled and slid about 120 feet down the northeast face of the peak before it was halted by rocks and scrub vegetation.

A ground-based witness located about 1,000 feet west of and below the peak stated that the helicopter completed about four or five rotations before it disappeared from his view.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records indicated that the pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with rotorcraft-helicopter and instrument-helicopter ratings, and a private pilot certificate with airplane single and multiengine land ratings. According to the pilot's personal flight log, he had approximately 11,500 total hours of flight experience, most of which was in helicopters. His first recorded flight in the accident helicopter make and model was in August 2008, and he had logged about 186 total hours in that equipment. In January 2011, excluding the accident flight, the pilot logged 6 flights, for a total of 7.5 hours, in the accident helicopter make and model. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued in February 2010. According to PCSD information, the pilot joined PCSD in November 2008, and had about 30 years experience flying helicopters for the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department.

The helicopter was manufactured in 1998, and was registered to Pima County in 2008. The helicopter's most recent annual inspection was completed in April 2010, and it had accumulated about 115 hours in service between that inspection and the accident. The helicopter was equipped with an Allison (Rolls-Royce) 250-C30 series turbine engine.

During the follow-up investigation, the engine was removed and prepared for a test-run. During the test run, the engine developed rated power, and engine performance exceeded minimum values for overhauled engines, and no anomalies were noted.

Tragedy Strikes Pima County (AZ) Sheriff's Aviation Unit

Pima County Sheriff's MD530F & Helio Courier aircraft. This appears to be the same helicopter involved in the fatal crash on Monday.A Pima County Arizona Sheriff's Department helicopter with four souls on board crashed Monday morning around 1130 am while scouting an area for new communication towers.  The pilot, Loren Leonberger 60, was fatally injured in the crash.  Of the three other occupants on board the helicopter two were reported to be in serious condition and on was reported to be in critical condition. 

The civilian pilot, Leonberger, first flew helicopters with the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1970.  Prior to coming to work for the Pima County Sheriff's Department he worked as a helicopter pilot for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department.  The crash occurred approximately 40 miles northwest of Tucson International airport in a rugged area of Waterman Mountain, in the Ironwood Forest National Monument area.  The exact circumstances of the crash are uncertain at this time according to the FAA.

After the crash one passenger identified as Edwin Nettleton (58), a radio engineer, called 911 to report the crash and advise that he was afraid the helicopter wreckage would fall over a cliff if he attempted to climb out.  He also expressed his concern about fire.  Nettleton told dispatchers that he suffered a broken wrist in the crash.

According the rescuers on scene the helicopter did apparently tumble 100 to 150 yards down the side of the mountain before it came to rest against a tree. 

While the helicopter crash investigation is in the very early stages and it is unknown if weather played a factor, there were some reports of a hail storm approximately 3 miles from the crash site, around the time of the crash.  However, records at the Marana airport, closest to the crash site showed that winds there were calm.  

In the past the Pima County Sheriff's Department operated one MD 530F helicopter, which the same make and model helicopter reported to be involved in the crash. 

The MD 500 series helicopter is a reliable, and rugged 4 passenger helicopter well suited for off field and rescue work in- rugged terrain.  The MD 530F is the preferred patrol helicopter for many agencies including the San Diego Sheriff's Department.  One of the things that makes the MD530F popular among pilots is it's reputation for survivability in crashes. 

The Pima County Sheriff's Department Aviation Unit was featured in an article here at Police Helicopter Pilot.com back in January of 2010. 

Police Helicopter Pilot sends it's condolences to the family of the pilot, Loren Leonberger.  RIP

The Helicopter Safety Brief: Not a Time to Sugar Coat Things- Helicopters are Still Crashing!

Both the FAA and Unit Policy requires that you give a safety brief to any passengers you place in your aircraft.  In the helicopter unit, the part of the brief I focused on most was the potential for items to depart a person's body, or depart the cockpit of the helicopter and go into the tail rotor.  I always made sure that my passengers knew that if something goes into the tail rotor, the chances of us all dying were pretty high. 

As professional pilots most of us spend a considerable amount of time, and mental energy studying various crashes, why they occurred and how they could have been prevented.  We talk to other pilots, old pilots, and mechanics.  We swap stories that we hear, study news stories, and we follow up on crashes by studying the NTSB's results or professional articles written by experts. 

There is one crash sequence that has plagued helicopters since the beginning, and that is items departing the cockpit or cabin of the aircraft and flying into the tail rotor.  Most helicopter experts agree that the tail rotor is one of the most vulnerable and important components of the ship.  It not only spins about 4 times faster than the main rotor, but it's location way out at the end of the tail boom is critically factored into the helicopter's weight and balance.  When tail rotors and their gear-boxes depart helicopters the situation is almost instantly tragic. 

There is a story recounted by many helicopter flight instructors of a helicopter many years ago, that was taken down by the tiny aluminum pull tab from a soda can.  Remember the old style pull tabs on soda cans that came off in your hand.  The way the story goes is that investigators found a part of a pull tab in the leading edge of a piece of the tail rotor recovered from the fatal crash.  Tab departs cockpit, embeds itself in leading edge of tail rotor blade, causes tail rotor to delaminate and come apart, throws tail rotor out of balance causing tail rotor and gear box to depart aircraft, helicopter now severely out of balance and unable to maintain level flight.  Many tail rotors today have metal strips on the leading edge to prevent delamination, but this does not protect against larger objects. 

Another flight instructor tells the story of a preacher who traveled by small helicopter.  According to this instructor, the preacher's bible which had been setting on the passenger seat, departed the aircraft and took out the tail rotor.  Once again the results were immediately fatal. 

This week I received an email from one of our helicopter mechanics who is also a pilot, and has worked for many years in the industry.  The email contained the preliminary NTSB report of a fatal (x3) helicopter crash that occurred in Kamiah Idaho on August 31st of this year.  The email further indicated that the pilot was a friend and was well known to a couple of our mechanics.  Tragically, the 9000 hour pilot and both passengers lost their lives when a metal clip board, belonging to a state employed biologist, departed the cabin the contacted the tail rotor.  There is no doubt that this pilot was profoundly aware of the consequences of an items going into the tail rotor.  And while I don't know for sure, it is just as likely that the passengers were briefed about these exact dangers.  Yet somehow it still occurred and three lives were lost. 

File photo of a military version of the Hiller UH 12E; Wikimedia.com photoOnce again we learn from the mistakes of others.  It is not enough to simply brief your passengers, we must be ever vigilant and know that the cockpit and all items in it are secure.  It is not a time to be nice! 

The preliminary report follows;

NTSB Identification: WPR10FA440
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, August 31, 2010 in Kamiah, ID
Aircraft: HILLER UH 12E, registration: N67264

Injuries: 3 Fatal.

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.

On August 31, 2010, about 0920 Pacific daylight time, a Hiller UH 12E helicopter, N67264, was substantially damaged when it impacted utility lines, a travel trailer, and the ground in Kamiah, Idaho, about 35 minutes after departure. The commercial pilot and the two passengers, both of whom were employees of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), were fatally injured. The flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the contract survey flight.

According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the helicopter was manufactured in 1965, and was converted to turbine power in 1981. According to the owner of the company that owned the helicopter, the pilot was an employee of that company, and IDFG had chartered the helicopter for a wildlife survey of a local river. The pilot had approximately 9,000 total hours of flight experience, including approximately 300 in the accident helicopter make and model.

The helicopter departed from the company's private facility in Clarkston, Washington, with the female passenger in the right seat, the pilot in the center seat, and the male passenger in the left seat. The helicopter was supposed to make an en route fuel stop at a company fuel depot, and then conduct the survey. The flight was not scheduled to land at Kamiah. Per the IDFG contract, the helicopter participated in an automated flight following program, and the pilot could communicate on a state-sponsored radio communications network called "StateComm." Shortly before the accident, the pilot announced on StateComm that he was landing in Kamiah. No further transmissions were received from the helicopter.

Several eyewitnesses in Kamiah reported that they observed objects separating or falling from the helicopter just prior to impact. The main wreckage, which consisted of the cabin, tail boom, and main rotor system, was located in a driveway of a residence. A debris path that was oriented back along the helicopter's flight path, and that measured approximately 1,500 feet in length, was comprised of various items from the helicopter. Some of the earliest items in the debris path included segments of a metal clipboard that belonged to one of the passengers, and the outboard segments of the two tail rotor blades. One of the tail rotor blades exhibited leading edge crush damage that was continuous across the fracture line, and the clipboard segments exhibited crease lines and paint transfer marks consistent with the tail rotor blade dimensions and colors.

About the time of the accident, the recorded weather at an airport 49 miles west-northwest of Kamiah included winds of 4 knots from 020 degrees; temperature 14 degrees C; and few clouds at 6,500 feet.Index for Aug2010 | Index of months

"Got the wires?" "Got em" High Tension Wires Continue To Be Helicopter Killers!

As a young deputy I was getting my first opportunity to go for a flight in one of our ASTREA patrol helicopters.  The purpose of the flight was to get some aerial photos of a crime scene.  The pilot had landed in an open field near our semi-rural patrol station.  As the helicopter skids left the ground, the pilot started talking to me in a way that I thought was kind of strange.  It went something like "Ok a little left pedal, a little left cyclic, and we're going to go up and over those wires right there."  At the time I wasn't quite sure why he was telling me this, but I thought "OK".

If you were to climb in the back seat of one of our patrol helicopters today, and go on a patrol flight with us, you would here similar talk between the two crew members.  While we don't necessarily verbalize every control input, there are certain things that we do verbalize every time.  Flying over or in the area of high tension wires is one of those times.  When approaching wires, one member of the crew will call them out and the other member will acknowledge them.  It goes something like  this, "coming up on the wires", "got the wires".   You might also here "crossing on the pole", or like one of our pilots likes to say "adding a couple hundred extra feet for the wife & kids." 

What we are practicing here is basic CRM, "Cockpit Resource Management" or "Crew Resource Management" whichever term you prefer.  All pilots are familiar with the concept. 

For us, verbally calling out every set of high tension wires, every time we fly over or near them is part of a disciplined approach to identifying hazards to flight.  In addition it continuously reminds us where every set of high tension wires in the county are located, particularly along some of our standard flight paths.   

No one likes to talk about the mistakes of dead pilots.  But talk about them we must in order to learn and hopefully prevent ourselves from ever making the same fatal mistake(s).  The fiery crash of a Bell 206 helicopter with 4 souls on board, near Auberry Ca. earlier this month is a sad reminder of the dangers of high tension wires.  But there is a little more to this crash than simply flying along and not seeing the wires, or not knowing they were there.  One must read the NTSB preliminary report carefully to see what I am referring to.

wikimedia.org photoIn this case, "crossing on the pole" would almost assuredly have saved the lives of the pilot and the 3 Fish & Game wildlife biologist who were passengers on the helicopter.  If you can envision two towers with a span of high tension wires between them, you would see that the high tension wires have at least some droop to them.  The greater the span, the greater the droop.  But in this case there is a smaller lighter wire running from the top of each tower to the opposite tower.   These wires are often much harder to see, and do not have the same droop as the heavier wires.  In this case the Bell 206 came down a canyon in straight and level flight over the top of the drooped high tension wires, but apparently did not see the smaller ground wire running between the tops of the two towers.  There is little doubt as to what occurred as the crash was witnessed by two USFS law enforcement officers who were in the area. 

Every year in America you can count on one or two low flying helicopters, following freeways during bad weather and often at night, crashing into high tension power lines.  The result is always the same, a fiery crash onto the freeway. 

Whether you are an LE pilot, civilial pilot, future pilot, or even a passenger in a helicopter calling out wires, knowing their locations along your flight path, and even knowing a little bit about them may very well save your life one day. 

Remember, altitude is your friend & "got the wires."

Helicopter Crash on Guejito Ranch Promts Multi-Agency Response

R44 4 seat helicopter, photo courtesy of Cal-Fire Valley Center.At around 1430 hours on Sunday September 20th, an emergency call went out that a helicopter had crashed on the Guejito Ranch in northern San Diego County.  The two occupants of the R44 piston powered 4 seat helicopter, survived the crash and used a cell phone to call for help.  Initial reports were that both occupants sustained injuries and needed assistance.

A San Diego Sheriff's patrol helicopter crewed by Pilot S. Rea and TFO G. Kneeshaw arrived on scene and began a search for the downed aircraft.  The helicopter was subsequently located in an remote area inaccessible to vehicles. 

Deputy Kneeshaw embarked on foot to contact and assist the injured occupants while Deputy Rea got back into the air to direct in the responding Cal-Fire and Sheriff's patrol units. 

Due to the remote location it was quickly determined that both victims would need to be evacuated by way of a hoist rescue ship.  A San Diego Sheriff's Fire/Rescue helicopter piloted by Deputy T. Weber, with an all Cal-Fire hoist crew, responded along with two Mercy Air medical helicopters.  Basket lifts were conducted on both patients by the crew of Copter 10, before they were handed off to Mercy Air for the medical transport.  Both patients are expected to fully recover from their injuries.

Initial information at the scene indicated that the helicopter may have been in a low orbit when the engine lost power and the helicopter suffered a hard landing.  The helicopter did suffer significant damage to include the tail boom becoming separated from the aircraft.  Unconfirmed reports are that the helicotper was new, with only 130 hours of total flying time.  According to the Robinson Helicopter website a new R44 Raven II helicopter retails for $404,000.

PHP staff spoke to the manager of Guejito Ranch, a working cattle ranch and the largest of the original Spanish Land Grants still in existence in California today.  The ranch manager confirmed that this is approximately the 6th air crash on the ranch in the past 2 years.  He further confirmed that his level of frustration with air crashes and low flying helicopters buzzing cattle is at an all time high.  

Low flying helicopter pilots would be smart to avoid the Guejito Ranch as a training area.  

Police Helicopter Pilot.com wishes a speedy recovery to the injured flyers. 

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on August 4th CBP Helicopter Crash

File photo of Miami Dade Police EC AS350B3, (not the one involved in the crash).On Tuesday August 4th at 1630 hours a Department of Homeland Security, Customs & Border Protection helicopter (similar to the one pictured above) crash landed at Herlong Airport in Jacksonville Florida causing substantial damage to the aircraft but only minor injuries to one of the occupants.

The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350B3, and crew were on a training flight and were practicing hydraulics off approaches to a hover- when the helicopter contacted the ground, spun and rolled over onto it's side according to the NTSB's preliminary report.  The Certified Flight Instructor suffered minor injuries while the commercial pilot was not injured. 

The helicopter suffered substantial damage to the fuselage, tail rotor and main rotor system. 

Topeka Police Helicopter Unit- Victim of Budget Cuts

It may be an understatement to say that the Topeka Police Department Helicopter unit has been the most hotly debated law enforcement aviation unit in the country, at least for the past 2 years or so.  While the Topeka Police Chief has been a staunch supporter of the program, a significant portion of the community has made their distaste for the police helicopter unit well known.

The Topeka Air Support unit has had a number of setbacks over the 38 years it has been in existence.  Just 3 years after it's start in 1971, Officer Marcus Hodd was killed in the crash of his patrol helicopter, a Hughes 269C (Schweizer 300) on November 1st 1974.  The NTSB ruled that the crash was the result of an auto-rotation, with a high flare, and low rotor rpm.  The report stated that reason for the emergency landing was not determined. 

The Topeka Police Department continued to operate Hughes 269/Schweizer 300 helicopters for the next several decades.  However, on June 13th 2000 tragedy struck again when two Topeka police officers were fatally injured in the crash of their Schweizer 300 helicopter.

The 2000 crash was very likely the beginning of the end of the Topeka PD Air Support Unit.  While it is not the purpose of this website or this writer to critique other aviation units, the 2000 Topeka PD helicopter crash opened wide the doors of public scrutiny of the Topeka Police Air Support Unit.

Pilot Jeff Howey (37) and TFO Charles Bohlender (33) were assisting ground units on a night time, commercial burglary alarm at a Lowes home improvement store, when things turned deadly.  According to ground units and witnesses the helicopter was in a tight right orbit over the store, when it suddenly began spinning, then nose dived into the ground and burst into flames.  Both the pilot and TFO were killed on impact.

When questioned by NTSB investigators the Topeka PD's chief pilot stated that the Pilot In Command would have flown at 500' AGL while en-route to the call, but then would have descended to 200' and 50 knots over the incident in order to conduct the FLIR search.  Now while that combination of altitude and airspeed -while working a police call, at night time, is enough to make most helicopter pilots cringe, it was further determined that the PIC had a grand total of 148.9 hours in helicopters.  The TFO was non rated.  Sadly the results speak for themselves. 

The NTSB determined that the cause of the crash was "loss of tail rotor effectiveness" due to tight right turns with low forward airspeed, and probable loss of effective translational lift resulting in low rotor rpm.  The NTSB also cited the pilot's overall inexperience in helicopters as a contributing factor. 

There is little doubt that this incident invited intense public scrutiny of the Topeka Air Support Unit, and gave ammunition to it's detractors who would like to see the air unit's budget spent elsewhere.

However, the emergency landing & crash of Topeka's R-44 patrol helicopter, caught on surveillance video at Washburn University on the evening of April 5th 2008, was likely the nail in the coffin.  The video of the crash landing made national news and only intensified the debate of the Topeka Helicopter program, among the citizens of Topeka Ks.  The pilot in command was attempting to make a precautionary landing after experiencing high engine rpm and a low rotor rpm warning light.  During the precautionary landing in the parking lot of Washburn University, the helicopters main rotor struck a light pole, causing the helicopter to come to rest on it's side, with damage. 

The NTSB determined the cause of this incident to be a malfunctioning magneto which may have sent incorrect signals to the governor, this producing the high engine rpm and the low rotor rpm warning.  Contact with the light pole was seen as a contributing factor. 

The end came during the second and final hour of a budget session at city hall when the mayor proposed to remove the final $520,000 in funding for the program, and a city council member proposed to remove funding for the city's helicopter mechanic position.  Topeka's police chief expressed shock at the move and questioned whether political motivations were involved. 

While policehelicopterpilot.com is sad to see any law enforcement helicopter program disbanded, we do not presume to know what is best for the citizens of Topeka Ks. 

Three Officers Injured in LAPD Helicopter Crash Landing

file photo of LAPD Eurocopter AS350, Glen Grossman photo.Three LAPD officers suffered minor to moderate injuries Thursday afternoon while practicing "power off" auto-rotations at an airfield in Lancaster Ca. according to news reports and the FAA. 

The pilot-officers were training at the General William J. Fox Airfield 40 miles northeast of downtown LA when the incident occurred. 

According to one Los Angeles County fire official, at least one officer suffered moderate injures while two suffered minor injuries and all were transported.  The helicopter also suffered damage during the "hard" landing. 

An auto-rotation is an emergency procedure that allows helicopters to land safely in the event of complete engine failure.  It is the only thing that stands between life and death, in single engine helicopters when the engine fails.  It works every time when performed correctly.  But it also takes a significant amount of practice become proficient, and unfortunately training accidents sometimes occur when this skill is being transferred from the instructor to the student. 

News photos of the helicopter confirm it was a Eurocopter AS350, one of twelve operated by the department.  The photo also confirms that the helicopter suffered significant damage.

LAPD's air unit is considered the largest municipal police helicopter unit in the world, (South Africa boast a larger fleet but it is not considered municipal) operating a total of 17 helicopters.  Most are flown from LAPD's rooftop heliport in downtown LA.

PHP.com staff wishes a speedy recovery to the officers.

Arizona DPS Helicopter First to Locate Fatal Bi Plane Crash

File photo of a Boeing Stearman (E-75), Juergen Lehle photo wikimedia.orgON Tuesday August 4th just after 3:00 pm a bright yellow vintage bi-plane with two souls on board departed Cottonwood Airport in the mountains south of Flagstaff Az.  Within a few minutes, according to at least one witness, the engine was sputtering and the airplane appeared to go down over a ridgeline.

On board the 1943 Boeng E-75 was Edward Remiro (32) and his father Robert Romero (72), residents of a local Navajo Indian Reservations.  One or both Remiro's also maintained a home in San Diego Ca. as well. 

The elder Remiro died on impact, leaving the younger Remiro with serious injuries to call for help on his cell phone.  An Arizona Department of Public Safety Helicopter was dispatched to search for the crash, as the Edward Remiro was unable to pinpoint his exact location.

The crew of the DPS helicopter discovered the crash site at around 3:42 pm in a clearing just south west of Stoneman Lake and rendered treatment to the victims until medical personnel arrived.  Edward Remiro was evacuated by medical helicopter and is expected to survive his injuries. 

The cause of the crash is still being investigated.

Excellent work by the DPS helicopter crew and all rescue personnel.    

SD Sheriff Fire Rescue Helicopter Assists Plane Crash Victim

Cal Fire personnel treating plane crash victim with Sheriff fire helicopter in background, photo by Cal Fire Chief Nick Schuler.A San Diego Sheriff Fire Rescue Helicopter was in the right spot at the right time last Saturday to assist a plane crash victim on the Guejito Ranch located east of Valley Center and north of Ramona Airport. 

Guejito Ranch is a well known area by most pilots in San Diego County due to it's dirt airstrip situated on several thousand acres of grazing land, dotted by oak trees and plenty of wide open semi-flat areas perfectly suitable for emergency landings.  Many pilots may not know that it is the largest of the original Spanish Land Grants still in existence today in Southern California.  The ranch is privately owned.

The uncontrolled airspace above the ranch is for obvious reasons popular among CFI's and students of both fixed wing and rotor wing aircraft. 

At the same time however the manager of the working cattle ranch has understandably had his fill of training helicopters buzzing around the ranch at low level, at times a nuisance to his cattle.  But he has probably also had his fill of both fixed and rotor wing aircraft coming to rest on the ranch in conditions best described as no longer airworthy. 

Let's see there was the Schweitzer 300 N58332 that I did most of my initial flight training in, which ended up in a state of disrepair at the bottom of a simulated auto-rotation "gone bad", on the dirt airstrip. 

Then there was the helicopter from the Ramona Helicopter Museum that went down into the trees with 4 people on board after a loss of engine power.  All four people walked away but the helicopter was totalled. 

Then there was the low wing single engine airplane that apparently suffered engine failure and performed a flawless belly landing literally in the back yard of the ranch managers house. 

And Saturday it was the experimental airplane pictured above.  Thankfully once again the injuries were non fatal.  And that is just in the past 4 years, and I have probably missed one or two.

According to Cal Fire Chief Nick Shuler the plane suffered a loss of engine power and the pilot attempted to make an emergency landing on the ranch.  During the landing roll the plane became inverted causing moderate injuries to the pilot, who was up walking around when fire personnel arrived on scene.

Coincidentally a SD Sheriff's Fire helicopter piloted by Deputy G. Palos, and with a Cal Fire Captain occupying the TFO seat, was in the area, heard the call and landed to assist.  The call apparently came into the Sheriff's communication center at around 11:10 am. 

Due to an extended ETA by Mercy Air, Deputy Palos and his Cal Fire partner flew the victim (along with a ground paramedic) to Scripps Hospital in La Jolla Ca., for treatment.  Normally Sheriff's fire rescue helicopters do not perform medivacs, but they can and will when the ETA for other medivac ships are extended. 

As far as Guejito Ranch is concerned pilots will continue to use the airspace above the ranch for practice, it would be a little silly to think they wouldn't.  But it would be wishful thinking to believe that at some point in time another aircraft will not end up in a non flying state somewhere on the ranch.  Hopefully it will be without injuries:)

NTSB Post It's Preliminary Accident Report in New Mexico State Police Helicopter Crash

The NTSB has published the preliminary accident report involving the New Mexico State Police Rescue Helicopter which crashed on the 12,000' level of Mount Santa Fe Baldy earlier this month. The report confirms earlier news reports that the helicopter likely entered inadvertent IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) shortly after lifting off and subsequently suffered a tail rotor strike as a result.

The report also confirmed that the helicopter involved in the crash was the Agusta Spa A-109E helicopter, N606SP.  The entire NTSB preliminary report is available on the NTSB website.

During the same time that the NTSB published their initial report, New Mexico State Police released the recordings of radio transmissions between the pilot and the New Mexico State Dispatch Center.  The pilot's wife was not only on duty at the communications center, but actually the dispatcher on the other end of the radio transmissions.  The pilot, Sgt. Tingwall, called her by name and advised he had hit the mountain, and that he was "going down."  The helicopter continued to fly for just under a minute before impacting the side of the mountain and rolling 800' to it's final resting place below. 

In addition to all of the events leading up to the tail rotor strike, the accident investigation will likely also focus on why Sgt. Tingwall and the hiker, Ms. Yamamoto were ejected from the aircraft, resulting in their deaths.  The medical examiner determined that Sgt. Tingwall died of hypothermia complicated by injuries suffered during the crash.

File photo of Agusta 109 helicopter, Juergen Lehle photo Wikimedia Commons. The Agusta Westland A-109E Power Helicopter is an 8 passenger (1- pilot 7- passenger) twin engine helicopter with a top speed of 168  knots (VNE) a service ceiling of 19,600', and an "in ground effect" hover ceiling of 16,600'. 

What we have not learned from the NTSB's report is if Sgt. Tingwall was an IFR rated pilot and if the crew were operating on night vision goggles, (NVG's do not provide any measure of safety when flying in the clouds, however they may help prevent inadvertent flight into clouds.)

This remains a sad day in police aviation.