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NTSB Preliminary Report: Point Lookout, NY

Location:

Point Lookout, New York

Accident Number:

ERA21LA028

Date & Time:

October 21, 2020, 16:12 Local

Registration:

N716VL

Aircraft:

Bell 206

Aircraft Damage:

Substantial

Defining Event:

VFR encounter with IMC

Injuries:

1 Minor

Flight Conducted Under:

Part 91: General aviation - Personal

 

 

Analysis

The pilot of the helicopter departed for a visual flight rules cross-country flight but returned to the airport shortly after takeoff upon encountering instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), which had been forecast. The pilot elected to depart again under special visual flight rules after hearing another pilot report indicating that the ceiling was between 800 and 1,000 ft. The helicopter was not equipped for flight in IMC.

About 12 minutes after takeoff, the pilot informed air traffic control that he intended to return to the departure airport after encountering IMC. Automatic dependent surveillance broadcast data showed that, during that part of the flight, the helicopter made numerous heading deviations in both directions (mostly to the right). While traveling back to the airport in IMC, the pilot heard a loud sound coming from the tail of the helicopter followed immediately by yawing in a clockwise direction, which was not corrected by the pilot’s anti-torque pedal input. The helicopter descended into shallow water, coming to rest upright.

Although the pilot believed that the tail rotor had failed or malfunctioned, a postaccident examination of the helicopter’s anti-torque system revealed no evidence of any preimpact failure or malfunction. The pilot’s perceived malfunction of the tail rotor, which occurred while the helicopter was flying at low airspeed, was likely the result of the pilot’s spatial disorientation, which began after he encountered IMC.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The pilot’s decision to depart on a visual flight rules flight, and to continue that flight into forecasted and deteriorating instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) in a helicopter that was not equipped for flight in IMC, which resulted in the pilot’s spatial disorientation and a subsequent loss of control.

Findings

Personnel issues - Decision making/judgment - Pilot

Environmental issues - Below VFR minima - Decision related to condition

Personnel issues - Spatial disorientation - Pilot

Aircraft - Yaw control - Not attained/maintained


Factual Information

History of Flight

Maneuvering-low-alt flying - VFR encounter with IMC (Defining event

Maneuvering-low-alt flying - Loss of control in flight

Uncontrolled descent - Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

On October 21, 2020, about 1612 eastern daylight time, a Bell 206B helicopter, N716VL, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Point Lookout, New York. The pilot sustained minor injuries. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

 The pilot stated that, earlier that day, he departed from Republic Airport (FRG), Farmingdale, New York, for Sterling Heliport (PS01), Croydon, Pennsylvania, for scheduled maintenance.

According to automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) data, the helicopter returned to FRG about 12 minutes after takeoff. The pilot stated that he waited on the ramp for adverse weather conditions to improve and that he elected to depart again for his original destination after being informed of another pilot’s report of visual flight rules (VFR) conditions at an altitude of about 800 ft. According to the air traffic control communications, the pilot of that airplane advised the controller, at 1544:03, that “a nice thin little [cloud] layer” appeared between 800 and 1,000 ft.

 The helicopter departed about 1546 under a special VFR clearance, and the pilot stated that after takeoff he flew to the south-southwest. Soon after, the pilot contacted air traffic control at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Queens, New York, he was advised that the ceiling was at 300 ft and was instructed to stay at or below 500 ft. During a postaccident interview, the pilot stated that he did not expect that ceiling and that the weather was “coming in quick and hard.”

 According to FAA information, at 1558:26, while the helicopter was about 12 miles southwest of FRG, the pilot advised the controller that he would be returning to the airport. The controller cleared the helicopter to turn either left or right and maintain an altitude at or below 1,400 ft, which the pilot acknowledged. The pilot later stated that he programmed a direct flight to FRG into the helicopter’s electronic flight instrument system and his tablet computer and tried to turn to a north-northeast heading, but the helicopter began to spin (yaw). ADS-B data indicated the helicopter made two left 180° turns. In response to the controller’s question about flight conditions, the pilot stated, at 1600:40, “we’re in fog we’re trying to get down below to get back to Farmingdale.”

 The helicopter proceeded briefly on a northeasterly heading, consistent with returning to FRG, but then turned left in a northerly direction. The helicopter made a 180° right turn onto a southeasterly heading. At 1603:10, the controller asked, “are you IFR [instrument flight rules] capable” to which the pilot replied, “I am…the ship isn’t.” The helicopter continued to fly in a southeast direction. About 1604, while flying over Point Lookout, the helicopter made a right 180° turn, flew north, and then flew east. Afterward, the helicopter made about seven 360° turns to the right. At 1611:13, the controller informed the pilot that he would declare an emergency on behalf of the pilot and advised the pilot of a pilot report indicating VFR conditions at 1,000 ft. The controller then cleared the helicopter to climb and provided the latest altimeter setting. The pilot did not reply to this transmission.

According to ADS-B data, the helicopter made a 360° right turn that was followed by a 180° right turn. The helicopter proceeded in a northerly direction then made a left turn. At 1611:38, an unidentified pilot stated “whoa” multiple times . The controller then attempted to communicate with the pilot but received no reply.

The straight-line distance between the third-to-last and second-to-last ADS-B data targets (at 1611:35 and 1611:39, respectively) was about 148 ft, which corresponded to an average groundspeed of about 22 knots. The accident site was located about 052° and 250 ft from the last ADS-B return.

The pilot indicated that the flight encountered instrument meteorological conditions as the helicopter flew to the south. While in those conditions, which he described as “soup that thick,” the pilot stated that he heard a loud noise coming from the tail and that “in a second” the helicopter yawed “very fast” in a clockwise direction. which was not corrected with the pilot’s antitorque control pedal input. The pilot also stated that he lowered the collective and thought that it was lowered once the helicopter began yawing. The pilot did not recall any alarms or a low rotor rpm warning. The thought that a mechanical malfunction or failure of the tail rotor had occurred.

Pilot Information

Certificate:

Airline transport; Commercial; Private

Age:

64,Male

Airplane Rating(s):

Single-engine land; Single-engine sea; Multi-engine land

Seat Occupied:

Right

Other Aircraft Rating(s):

Helicopter

Restraint Used:

4-point

Instrument Rating(s):

Airplane; Helicopter

Second Pilot Present:

No

Instructor Rating(s):

None

Toxicology Performed:

 

Medical Certification:

Class 1 With waivers/limitations

Last FAA Medical Exam:

June 12, 2019

Occupational Pilot:

No

Last Flight Review or Equivalent:

April 1, 2020

Flight Time:

2570 hours (Total, all aircraft), 144 hours (Total, this make and model), 2254 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 70 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 15 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make:

Bell

Registration:

N716VL

Model/Series:

206 B

Aircraft Category:

Helicopter

Year of Manufacture:

1992

Amateur Built:

 

Airworthiness Certificate:

Normal

Serial Number:

4203

Landing Gear Type:

High skid

Seats:

5

Date/Type of Last Inspection:

March 1, 2020 Continuous airworthiness

Certified Max Gross Wt.:

3350 lbs

Time Since Last Inspection:

 

Engines:

1 Turbo shaft

Airframe Total Time:

6933.7 Hrs as of last inspection

Engine Manufacturer:

Allison

ELT:

C91 installed

Engine Model/Series:

250-C20

Registered Owner:

 

Rated Power:

250 Horsepower

Operator:

On file

Operating Certificate(s) Held:

None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site:

Instrument (IMC)

Condition of Light:

Day

Observation Facility, Elevation:

KJFK,11 ft msl

Distance from Accident Site:

9 Nautical Miles

Observation Time:

15:51 Local

Direction from Accident Site:

285°

Lowest Cloud Condition:

 

Visibility

0.5 miles

Lowest Ceiling:

Broken / 300 ft AGL

Visibility (RVR):

 

Wind Speed/Gusts:

9 knots /

Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:

None / None

Wind Direction:

160°

Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:

N/A / N/A

Altimeter Setting:

30.23 inches Hg

Temperature/Dew Point:

19°C / 17°C

Precipitation and Obscuration:

Moderate - None - Mist

 

 

Departure Point:

Farmingdale, NY (FRG)

Type of Flight Plan Filed:

None

Destination:

Croydon, PA (PS01)

Type of Clearance:

Special VFR

Departure Time:

15:46 Local

Type of Airspace:

 

The pilot stated that, after arrival at FRG about 1200, he obtained the current automated terminal information service report and checked the weather for his intended route of flight using the Foreflight application. At 1304 , the National Weather Service (NWS) Aviation Weather Center issued an AIRMET advisory for IFR conditions for the accident location at the accident time.

At 1537, the National Weather Service issued a terminal aerodrome forecast for JFK, which indicated wind from 160° at 9 knots, visibility of 5 statute miles, mist, and broken clouds at 400 ft and 1,200 ft above ground level (agl) the forecast also indicated that temporary conditions between 1600 and 2000 would be visibility greater than 6 statute miles, no significant weather, scattered clouds at 700 ft and 1,500 ft agl, and ceiling broken at 3,500 ft agl.

The JFK automated surface observing system provided an hourly observation at 1551 (shown above in the data block). At 1610 (2 minutes before the accident), the JFK automated surface observing system 5-minute observation indicated a visibility of 0.5 statute mile, mist, ceiling broken at 300 ft agl, and a surface visibility of 1.5 statute miles. At 1646 (about 34 minutes after the accident), a pilot reported cloud bases at 200 ft and cloud tops at 500 ft over JFK.

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries:

1 Minor

Aircraft Damage:

Substantial

Passenger Injuries:

 

Aircraft Fire:

None

Ground Injuries:

 

Aircraft Explosion:

None

Total Injuries:

1 Minor

Latitude, Longitude:

40.598289,-73.56209(est)

Postaccident examination of the helicopter found that the aft portion of the tailboom assembly, including the tail rotor assembly and vertical fin, was separated about 1.5 ft forward of the tail rotor gearbox mount location. The tailboom fracture location coincided with the location of the main rotor blade tip path. Both tail rotor blades remained attached to the tail rotor hub assembly. One blade was minimally damaged, and the other blade was heavily distorted. The forward fuselage sustained heavy impact damage, and the center box structure of the fuselage containing the flight controls was crushed and distorted. The pilot’s seat and seat pan exhibited downward crushing.

Examination of the cyclic and collective flight control systems revealed no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction. Examination of the anti-torque flight control system revealed control continuity from the pedals to the bearing, which remained connected to the bellcrank assembly. The bottom of the fixed-tube assembly was fractured with no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction. Continuity of the anti-torque control system was confirmed from the fixed-tube assembly to just forward of the tail rotor gearbox, where another fixed-tube assembly exhibited bending overload.

Examination of the tail rotor drive system revealed continuity from the engine to just forward of the tail rotor gearbox, where the splined shaft was separated from the gearbox splined shaft.

Both main rotor blades remained attached to the hub, but one blade had a 9-ft section that had separated. The separated piece was located about 100 ft from the resting location of the helicopter. Examination of the engine assembly revealed no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction.

Additional Information

Spatial Disorientation

The FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute's publication, "Introduction to Aviation Physiology," defined spatial disorientation as a “loss of proper bearings; state of mental confusion as to position, location, or movement relative to the position of the earth.” Factors contributing to spatial disorientation include changes in acceleration, flight in IFR conditions, frequent transfer between VFR and IFR conditions, and unperceived changes in aircraft attitude.

The FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3B) described hazards associated with flying when the ground or horizon are obscured. The handbook stated, in part, the following:

The vestibular sense (motion sensing by the inner ear) in particular can and will confuse the pilot. Because of inertia, the sensory areas of the inner ear cannot detect slight changes in airplane attitude, nor can they accurately sense attitude changes that occur at a uniform rate over a period of time. On the other hand, false sensations are often generated, leading the pilot to believe the attitude of the airplane has changed when, in fact, it has not. These false sensations result in the pilot experiencing spatial disorientation.

Administrative Information

Investigator In Charge (IIC):

Monville, Timothy

 

Additional Participating Persons:

Stanley Routh; FAA/FSDO; Farmingdale, NY

 

Original Publish Date:

October 19, 2022                                                                                       Investigation Class:

3

Note:

The NTSB did not travel to the scene of this accident.

 

Investigation Docket:

https://data.ntsb.gov/Docket?ProjectID=102183

 

 

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