On February 22, 2022, about 1020 Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time, a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter, N615CK, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), Barking Sands, Kekaha, Hawaii, on the island of Kauai. The two pilots and two crewmembers were fatally injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 133 flight.
The accident helicopter, owned and operated by Croman Corporation, was under contract to the United States Navy, being used to retrieve inert training torpedoes from the Pacific Ocean as part of the Navy’s, ongoing, Pacific submarine training operations. According to the operator’s director of operations, the accident mission involved locating a training torpedo in the open waters, retrieving the torpedo using a recovery basket/cage system, then returning the torpedo to the PMRF by sling load.
The helicopter was equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS–B), which provides aircraft tracking to determine its position via satellite navigation or other sensors and periodically broadcasts it, enabling it to be tracked. The information can be received by air traffic control ground stations as a replacement for secondary surveillance radar, as no interrogation signal is needed from the ground.
According to archived Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ADS-B data, after the helicopter departed Barking Sands PMRF, it proceeded north-northwest to an area about 44 miles away. After maneuvering in the area, the helicopter then proceeded south-southeast towards the Barking Sands PMRF. As the helicopter approached the Barking Sands PMRF, it crossed the shoreline, then it began a shallow left turn as it maneuvered to the north, and into the prevailing wind. As the helicopter neared the predetermined drop-off site, known as the ordnance recovery cage area (ORCA), the left turn stopped, and the helicopter proceeded in a northeasterly direction. The archived ADS–B data stopped recording just before impact.
Figure 1: ADS-B track data for N615CK, which depicts both outbound, and inbound tracks.
Multiple witnesses located near the accident site consistently reported that as the helicopter continued the left turn towards the ORCA, the turn unexpectantly stopped, and it began to travel in a northeast direction. The witnesses noted that as the helicopter flew in a north easterly direction, about 200 feet above the ground, it gradually pitched nose down and impacted nose first, in a near vertical attitude.
Figure 2: ADS-B track data for N615CK, which depicts both departure and arrival/approach tracks.
A postcrash fire ensued, which incinerated much of the helicopter’s structure.
Figure 3: N615CK at accident site
Two investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) Alaska Regional Office, along with a helicopter aerospace engineer from Washington D.C., responded to the accident site and examined the helicopter wreckage on February 23-28. During the detailed on-scene examination, the investigative team retained various components for additional examination and testing, and results are pending.