NTSB Report - Bell 407 Helicopter Crash in Dagsboro, DE
On December 14, 2006, about 1815 eastern standard time, a Bell 407, N407JJ, operated by HeloAir Inc., was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain during takeoff from a private farm field near Dagsboro, Delaware. The certificated commercial pilot and the passenger were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan was filed for the flight, destined for Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), Dulles, Virginia. The non-scheduled passenger flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 135.
According to the operator, the pilot began her work day at 1115, and departed from the helicopter's base in Manassas, Virginia at 1215. The pilot picked up the passenger at his private residence at 1230, dropped him off at a golf club in Ocean View, Delaware at 1330, then proceeded to Sussex County Airport (GED), Georgetown, Delaware and refueled the helicopter. The pilot later departed Georgetown about 1650, and was scheduled to pick up the passenger at the golf club, about 1730, and return him to Washington Dulles Airport.
About 1700, two witnesses observed the helicopter flying at an altitude about 75 feet above the trees, in the vicinity of the accident site. One witness observed the helicopter disappear into fog, and then reappear traveling in the opposite direction. When asked to describe the lighting and the weather in the area at the time, the other witness stated that it was dusk, and that fog was beginning to form. She added that by the time it was dark, around 1730, the fog had worsened and "you couldn't see."
About 1715, the accident helicopter landed in a farm field. The property owner did not recognize the helicopter, became concerned, and contacted the Delaware State Police. A state trooper arrived at the helicopter around 1730, and spoke with the pilot. The pilot advised the trooper that she was scheduled to pick up a passenger at a nearby golf club, but was unable to land there due to fog. She diverted from the intended destination and landed in the field to await the passenger's arrival. When asked about the light and weather conditions at the time the trooper was talking to the pilot, the trooper noted that it was "dark and foggy."
Another witness was working about 800 feet from the accident site at the time of the accident. According to the witness, about 1815, he heard the helicopter's engine start, and proceeded outside to watch the takeoff. The helicopter climbed vertically to a height just above the trees that were to its left and above the utility lines that were to its front, and hovered for a moment. While hovering, the landing light of the helicopter turned on, off, on, and off again. The helicopter then pitched nose down and began to accelerate forward. The witness expected to see the helicopter climb, as he had seen other helicopters do in the past; however, the accident helicopter just accelerated forward in a shallow descent until it impacted the ground. When asked about the sound of the helicopter or its engine during the takeoff, he stated that the sound was smooth and continuous, and that nothing sounded abnormal. The witness additionally described that at the time of the accident it was dark, the fog was dense, and that it thickened throughout the evening. The witness attempted to respond to the accident site, but could not find his way, and subsequently returned to where he was working to retrieve a light.
An off-duty firefighter reported that he heard, but did not see, the helicopter during the takeoff. When he heard the sounds of impact he contacted local authorities and responded to the scene. As he was making his way to the accident site he estimated that the visibility was 1/8 mile or less in fog.
The accident occurred during the hours of night at 38 degrees 32.913 minutes north latitude, 75 degrees 12.832 minutes west longitude.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a rating for rotorcraft helicopter. She also held a flight instructor certificate with a rating for rotorcraft helicopter. Her most recent FAA second class medical certificate was issued on April 28, 2006, and on that date, she reported 2,800 total hours of flight experience.
The wreckage was examined at the site on December 15, 2006. There was a strong odor of fuel, and all major components of the helicopter were accounted for at the scene.
The takeoff point of the helicopter was identified by the Delaware State Trooper. Examination of the site revealed only two depressions in the ground consistent in size and shape with the helicopter's landing gear skids. No damage was noted in the tree line located about 50 feet south of the takeoff point, nor was any damage noted to the utility lines located about 300 feet west of the takeoff point. The beginning of the wreckage path was located 1,090 feet, bearing 297 degrees magnetic, from the takeoff point.
The wreckage path was on flat terrain, oriented in a direction of 288 degrees magnetic, and was 116 feet long. The initial ground scar was about 2 feet long, 8 inches deep, and another ground scar, located directly beyond the initial impact point, was 4 feet long, and about 2 feet deep. The right skid was lodged in the ground at an approximate 40-degree angle to the surface, oriented roughly parallel to the initial ground scar.
The cockpit and cabin area were destroyed, and fragmented along the wreckage path. The tailboom was separated into two 5-foot sections, and was lying adjacent to the main wreckage. The fractured ends of the tailboom and fuselage exhibited damage consistent with the size and curvature of the leading edge of the main rotor blades. One of the tail rotor blades exhibited impact damage about 8 inches from the blade tip.
The engine, transmission, and main rotor system remained attached to the fuselage. All four main rotor blades remained attached to the rotor hub, and the main spar of each was intact to the tips. About half of the honeycomb afterbody from each main rotor blade was separated and scattered along the wreckage path. All four main rotor blades exhibited s-bending and chord-wise scratching consistent with ground contact. Three of the rotor blades exhibited paint transfer consistent in color with the tailboom and fuselage.
All four yoke flextures exhibited delamination and spar fiber fractures, and all four blade down stops exhibited signatures consistent with contact with the pitch horn. Two of the four pitch change links were fractured near their bottom, and the other two were bent. When moved, the swashplate rotated freely.
Single pilot controls were installed, and the unused collective and cyclic controls were found in the aft baggage compartment. The installed cyclic and collective controls were separated at their bases. The vertical flight control tunnel was separated at the top and bottom from the fuselage. All three control tubes, two cyclic and one collective, were fractured at various points throughout the system, and all breaks were consistent with overload. Continuity of the controls was confirmed to the main and tail rotors.
Continuity of the drivetrain was confirmed. The main driveshaft was separated forward of the rotor brake and exhibited rotational scoring. Examination of the engine revealed that the N1 and N2 sections were free to rotate. The engine control unit was removed from the engine, and all connections were snug, and were absent of moisture, corrosion, or debris. The engine and engine control unit were retained for further testing. The aft main fuel tank was ruptured, but did contain a significant amount of residual fuel, and the ground adjacent to the tank was saturated with fuel. The aft main fuel tank remained intact, and the ground near the separated fuel lines was saturated with fuel.
At 1801, the weather conditions reported at Sussex County Airport, located about 11 nautical miles northwest of the accident site, included winds from 100 degrees at 3 knots, 3 statute miles visibility in mist, clear skies, temperature 46 degrees Fahrenheit, dewpoint 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 29.99 inches of mercury.
At 1840, the visibility at Sussex County Airport was reported as 1 1/4 statute miles in mist.
According to the United States Naval Observatory, on December 14, 2006, the official sunset in Dagsboro, Delaware occurred at 1641, and the end of civil twilight occurred at 1710. Moonrise occurred at 0221 on the following day.