NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Recent Sweetwater Helicopter Crash

By Scott Sarvay
By Maureen Mespell

November 21, 2011 Updated Nov 11, 2013 at 6:44 PM EDT

INDIANA (Indiana’s NewsCenter) - 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 November 3, 2011, about 1815 Eastern Standard Time, N130AL, a Eurocopter EC 130 B4, sustained substantial damage during a hard landing near Noblesville, Indiana. A ground fire subsequently occurred. The private pilot and five passengers sustained minor injuries. The helicopter was registered to Sweetwater Helicopters LLC and was operated by the pilot. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed in the area during the timeframe of the accident. No flight plan was on file for the flight. The flight originated from the Adderly's Pad Heliport (1IN8), near Fort Wayne, Indiana, about 1715, and was destined for the Indianapolis Downtown Heliport (8A4), Indianapolis, Indiana.

The pilot reported that he checked internet weather services for his flight's weather briefing. He indicated that the weather forecast showed visual meteorological conditions would be in place prior to the flight's arrival. The flight departed 1IN8 and weather was reportedly good until ten miles north of Indianapolis Metro Airport. The pilot reported that the flight encountered rain and low ceilings. He hovered the helicopter over a field to evaluate the weather. The on-board radar indicated that weather deteriorated behind his route of flight and along his proposed route of flight. The pilot elected to divert to Noblesville Airport. Conditions continued to deteriorate and the pilot elected to perform a precautionary landing on a harvested cornfield. He circled to observe the field prior to landing. He approached the field from the north and while approaching the hover about 30 feet above the ground, the helicopter settled rapidly. He added power to slow the descent and the helicopter made a firm landing with about ten knots of forward speed. The right skid dug into the soft cornfield and the helicopter rolled onto its right side. The pilot attempted to pull the emergency fuel shutoff but was unable to do so. The passengers and pilot exited through the left side door. After ten minutes, flames were observed and the helicopter sustained a ground fire.

Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration and a technical advisor from American Eurocopter to the accredited representative for the Bureau d'Enquetes et D'Analyses of France accessed the accident site on November 4, 2011 and examined and documented the wreckage. The instrument panel and cabin area were destroyed by the fire. The helicopter was equipped with a vehicle engine multifunction display (VEMD) and a Garmin G-500. The VEMD and the Garmin G-500 contain non-volatile memory and have been shipped to the National Transportation Safety Board's vehicle recorders laboratory to see if they contain any data that is relevant to the accident flight. The Digital Engine Control Unit (DECU) was damaged and the DECU was not shipped.

At 1815, the recorded weather at the Indianapolis Executive Airport, near Indianapolis, Indiana, was: Wind 040 degrees at 11 knots gusting to 16 knots; visibility 5 statute miles; present weather rain; sky condition overcast 600 feet; temperature 8 degrees C; dew point 8 degrees C; altimeter 29.92 inches of mercury.

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