Thursday, January 22, 2009

Can we learn from this?

hgn crash pilot fault NTSB

Author: wasthere Date: 1/22/2009 1:07:45 AM
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND - Federal aviation investigators have determined that weather conditions and the pilot's lack of recent instrument flying experience contributed to last year's medical helicopter crash that killed three.The National Transportation Safety Board's official cause of the Feb. 5, 2008, crash of the Valley AirCare helicopter states, "The pilot's failure to maintain aircraft control resulting (sic) in the helicopter impacting the water. Factors contributing to the accident were the pilot's inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions, the low ceiling, dark night conditions and the pilot's lack of recent instrument flying experience."The report was released Jan. 15.Pilot Robert Goss, 55, flight nurse Raul Garcia, 38, and paramedic Michael Sanchez, 39, died when the Eurocopter AS350 crashed around 11 p.m. into the Laguna Madre about two miles west of the South Padre Island Convention Centre.They were en route from Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen to the Island to pick up a 60-year-old woman complaining of chest pains and difficulty breathing. The woman was not on board the helicopter and was ultimately taken to the hospital by ambulance.The NTSB report states that a review of Goss' pilot experience "showed that his most recent actual instrument experience was in 1997 when he completed an instrument competency check in a single-engine airplane."The only instrument experience in a helicopter ... was two entries of simulated instrument time of .2 hours in September 2007 and .8 hours in December 2005," the report states.According to the report, the helicopter, equipped with a global positioning system, left the Valley Baptist Medical Center helipad around 8:40 p.m. It reported that it was at about 1,000 feet altitude when it was about four miles west of the landing zone on the Island.The National Weather Service said that a cold front moving into the area around the time of the crash produced winds of about 10 mph, with gusts to 25 mph. The weather service had issued a Marine Weather Statement earlier on the day of the crash, warning of possible sea fog with the arrival of the cold front.According to the NTSB report, the flight nurse transmitted the following radio recordings: "Uh, I got lights here ... Follow the uh lights out ... OK ... Follow the lights out ... We're in the clouds again. We're gonna abort. Transport patient by ground."Witnesses told NTSB investigators that they saw the helicopter's lights fall almost straight down, according to the report. The EMS personnel waiting at the landing zone on the Island saw the crash and called 9-1-1. Another witness, a resident of a nearby RV park, said she saw the helicopter's lights spiral downward and then heard the impact.According to the report, an examination of the helicopter's wreckage was consistent with damage from a "high-speed, port-side inverted impact with water."There was no evidence of mechanical problems with the aircraft's airframe, systems and engine, the report states.Sanchez's and Garcia's bodies were found shortly after the crash; Goss' body was found the next morning about 150 feet from the helicopter wreckage.The report states that the helicopter wreckage was found in 3 to 5 feet of water in the Laguna Madre. It was recovered by the U.S. Coast Guard and taken to the NTSB's Dallas office shortly after the accident.Goss was from Illinois where he flew a crop-duster plane, and worked in the Rio Grande Valley during the winter, Rene Perez, director of transport services for South Texas Emergency Care, said following the crash.Sanchez was from San Benito. Garcia, a native of Laredo, lived in Weslaco.The Garcia and Sanchez families have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the helicopter's operator Metro Aviation Inc. and South Texas Emergency Care Foundation Inc.The families' attorney J. K. Ivey said Wednesday that the NTSB report "confirms the findings of our independent investigators, that it was pilot error.""We are alarmed and concerned by the pilot's lack of relevant flying experience," Ivey said.Valley AirCare declined to comment on the report. Metro Aviation, which owned the helicopter and hired the pilot, did not return a phone call requesting comment.

Here's what I think....

Is sounds like the PIC was trying to fly VMC in IMC. It also sounds like someone other than the pilot was telling/asking the pilot "to follow the lights".

I wasn't there, and I don't want to be disrespectful.

Just wondering though, does it really matter how much instrument experience you have if you wait too long to use it? As for me, if I scew up and push to hard and far in crappy weather, and find myself in the clouds or fog I am going to:

Commit - to flight by reference to instruments. I will make the decision, and that's it unless I fly into severe VMC.

Climb - Wings level, maintain heading, climb power, climb airspeed. During the transition, turns can equal spatial disorientation so no turning unless absolutely required.

Confess - to ATC and the crew. "Guys, I screwed up. We are in the clouds without a clearance. I am flying on instruments and I am going to call ATC as soon as I get situated." I will use any and every resource available to me, including the warm body sitting next to me if there is one.

I ain't proud to be admitting this, but this event actually did happen to me 10 years ago. I blew into the clear at 5000' with sweaty palms, a dry throat, and tachycardia going on. At that point I had been flying helicopters on instruments for 15 years.

The sudden, unwanted transition to IMC is no cakewalk, but it can certainly be survived with the right choices.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

High Wind Heebyjeebies

So there I was - today, flying towards a rural hospital in winds gusting to 30+ on the surface and tossing us around in the BK. Frontal passage this am. Gotta love a BK in turbulence. Thanks to a hingeless rotor, the aircraft will occasionally jump sideways.

The pad I am going to is a small fenced-in ground-level slab immediately downwind of a multi-story building. Pretty much one way in under current conditions. So I get slowed down and plan a steep approach to clear the pine trees on final, growing up close to the pad. Who designs these places anyway?

We intercept the approach angle, and start down. Nice and slow, power in, ready for the potholes.

At about 300 feet the aircraft stops descending. Huh?

Okay, reduce power, forward and down. Lose another 100 feet or so. Aircraft stops descending.

It won't go down. Push the collective further down. Aircraft stays put. Getting bounced around pretty good now. Hair starts standing up on back of neck. Okay, we are obviously in an updraft coming off the building - what happens when we drop below the updraft and out of the wind? Or worse, into a downdraft, and the collective is almost bottomed out. Turbine-lag? Rotor Droop? VRS? Will it stop?

A little voice inside says "do a go around". I listen. Ain't messed with no mountains or concrete canyons lately.

As luck would have it, there is a big flat airport two miles away. We go there instead.

I heard once that a superior pilot is one who avoids putting himself in a position where he has to demonstrate his superior skills. Sounds reasonable to me.