Fatal B206L3 Cell Phone Discount Distracted CFIT

Fatal B206L3 Cell Phone Discount Distracted CFIT

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reported on a Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) accident involving Bell 206L3 N213TV, operated by what NTSB call WQRE TV 13 (but was actually KRQE) on 16 September 2017.  The helicopter impacted open ranch land, near Ancho, New Mexico.  There was a post impact fire.  The pilot, the sole occupant, was fatally injured, and the helicopter destroyed.

Wreckage of TV Company B206L2 N213TV (Credit: NTSB)

Wreckage of TV Company B206L2 N213TV (Credit: NTSB)

The helicopter had departed from Roswell International Air Center Airport (ROW), New Mexico at c1554 local time for Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ), New Mexico.

The NTSB say in a report released 8 July 2019:

The pilot was conducting a return cross-country business flight in a helicopter. The reported winds at the time of the accident were light, and visibility was at least 10 miles.

A Garmin Aera 796 GPS unit was found at the accident site. A review of the flight track from the GPS unit, revealed that the helicopter departure and northwest heading towards Albuquerque. The flight track was a straight line and started at a GPS altitude of 3,681 ft. For about the last 5 minutes of the flight track, the helicopter’s GPS altitude varied between 6,200 and 6,456 ft, the last recorded altitude. The ground elevation and surrounding terrain near the accident site varied between 6,000 and 6,400 ft; the elevation at the initial impact point was 6,330 ft. The last recorded data showed the helicopter about 1.5 nm from the accident site.

The pilot’s mobile phone (US: cell phone) was recovered in the wreckage.

A review of the [cell phone] records revealed that the pilot placed a call at 1607; the call lasted only 3 seconds. About 1612, the pilot repeated the telephone call, which was to a car rental agency, this time the call lasted for 1 minute and 47 seconds.

The clerk reported that she remembered the call well, and that she knew the pilot, because he often rented a car from the agency.

The reason for the call was [the pilot] wanted to insure he was going to get a special rate for his rental that day. They had a special deal…if he put less than 75 miles on a car. He also called to let her know [where] the car was parked…

She added that she could not tell that he was in a helicopter but that he seemed “busy or distracted.” She added that, as they were talking about a future rental and was in “mid-sentence,” when the call was disconnected.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot’s distraction by a cell phone during a low-altitude flight, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain.

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