Helicopter Wildlife Netting Accidents

Helicopter Wildlife Netting Accidents

In May 2018 the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published two reports into accidents involving helicopters attempting to carry out wildlife net captures.  UPDATE 11 July 2019: Another netting accident report is published.

1) Tail Rotor Strike, N338HW

On 12 February 2018, Hughes (later MD) 369D N338HW of Helicopter Wildlife Services was manoeuvring at a low altitude in an attempt to net an elk near Heber City, Utah.  According to the NTSB report:

When the helicopter was approximately above the elk, his attention was immediately focused forward due to a small rise in terrain. He pitched the helicopter’s nose up, and the helicopter started to shake and spin. Subsequently, the helicopter struck the ground, the right skid broke, and the helicopter came to rest on its right side.

Wreckage of Hughes 369 N338HW (Credit: Wasatch County Sheriff's Office)

Wreckage of Hughes 369 N338HW (Credit: Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office)

Postaccident examination revealed that the tail rotor had struck the elk when the pilot pitched the helicopter’s nose up.

Wreckage of Hughes 369 N338HW: note missing tail rotor an main rotor blade damage (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

Wreckage of Hughes 369 N338HW: note missing tail rotor an main rotor blade damage (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

The helicopter sustained substantial damage to the tailboom and rotor [sic].

The two persons on board were uninjured.  NTSB do not comment on the fate of the elk, but other sources state its injuries were terminal.

The NTSB probable cause was:

The pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from an elk while maneuvering at a low altitude.

Successful elk captures to fit radio collars in New Mexico:

2) Self Inflicted Main Rotor Damage, N22TZ

A few months earlier, on 26 October 2017 in La Paloma, Texas, Airbus Helicopters EC130T2 N22TZ of Richardson Aviation was manoeuvring at low altitude with two net gunners located on the left and right in the aft cabin according to the NTSB report.

The pilot reported that he entered a left bank to pursue a deer. The deer was located “between our 8 and 9 o’clock position, and the net gunner made the net shot at the deer.” The pilot observed the net miss the deer and simultaneously heard an unusual “whooshing noise” coming from the helicopter.

He made a precautionary landing, and during the shutdown, he noticed what he described as an unusual discoloration of the main rotor disc.

Examination of the main rotor blades revealed that one of the blades had a large hole in it, about 5 ft from the blade tip.

EC130T2 N22TZ Main Rotor Blade Damage (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

EC130T2 N22TZ Main Rotor Blade Damage (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

The net that was fired at the deer was recovered and was found to be missing one of the weights that are normally attached to the net’s corners.

EC130T2 N22TZ Capture Net with One Missing Corner Weight (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

EC130T2 N22TZ Capture Net with One Missing Corner Weight (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

The NTSB probable cause was:

The separation of a weight from the gunner’s net, which struck the helicopter’s main rotor blade during flight.

UPDATE 11 July 2019: 3) Self Inflicted Tail Rotor Damage, N369TH

On 27 January 2018, Hughes 369D N369TH, operated by Hells Canyon Helicopters (seemingly on contract to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) crashed NW of Pomeroy, Washington.  Once person died and two were seriously injured.

Wreckage of Hells Canyon Helicopters Hughes 369D N369TH near Pomeroy, Washington (Credit: via NTSB)

Wreckage of Hells Canyon Helicopters Hughes 369D N369TH near Pomeroy, Washington (Credit: via NTSB)

According to the NTSB safety investigation report (and on-site supplement):

The purpose of the flight was to capture and collar mule deer for tracking. The flight was operated with three crew members: a pilot, a gunner, and a mugger. The pilot sits in the front left seat, the gunner sits in the rear left seat and shoots nets from a net gun in order to capture deer, and the mugger sits in the front right seat and exits the helicopter to handle the tagging and release of the deer.

Neither survivor could remember much about the accident.

The tail rotor hub and stop exhibited contact marks and dents consistent with excessive tail rotor blade flapping. One blade appeared undamaged, and the outboard 2 inches of the second blade had a dent with gouge marks with evidence of metal transfer consistent with stainless steel, similar to that of the net weight; the remaining section of the blade was bent and curled.

…it is likely that the net weight struck the leading edge of the tail rotor, which resulted in a fracture of the tail rotor tip and subsequent imbalance of the tail rotor blades. This imbalance resulted in excessive tail rotor blade flapping and subsequent loss of control.

…addition, since there are several accounts of windy conditions it is potential that the wind affected the nets ability to open and possibly the net trajectory.

The NTSB probable cause was:

A loss of control following the gunner’s failure to ensure that the net maintained clearance from the tail rotor.

Accident Site Hells Canyon Helicopters Hughes 369D N369TH near Pomeroy, Washington (Credit: via NTSB)

Accident Site Hells Canyon Helicopters Hughes 369D N369TH near Pomeroy, Washington (Credit: via NTSB)

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