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.
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.
The Irish Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) reported on a non-fatal accident involving Enstrom 280FX N531TJ on 16 July 2018.
Whilst carrying out practice exercises near Carrahane Strand, Co. Kerry, the Pilot, who was the sole occupant of the Enstrom 280FX helicopter, landed briefly for a break. The landing surface was soft, wet, sand. The skids of the helicopter had touched down lightly prior to it rolling over on to its left-hand side. The helicopter was substantially damaged. The Pilot was uninjured.
While the helicopter was touching down, the Pilot’s mobile telephone had rung. The phone contained software for navigation and flight planning but the pilot told the AAIU he would never use it for communications in-flight.
He glanced at the telephone which was mounted on a bracket beside the instrument panel in order to identify the caller. The Pilot reported that, at the same time as this momentary distraction, a gust of wind from the west hit the right-hand side of the helicopter.
The AAIU comment:
Landing a helicopter is a critical phase of flight when circumstances can change rapidly. For this reason, any distraction during landing can contribute to an upset unless a prompt intervention is initiated. Many Pilots now carry Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) such as mobile phones, tablets, GPS units in the cockpit; all of which may provide useful functions, but are also a potential source of distraction. The US NTSB Safety Alert SA-025, highlights the dangers associated with PED use during flight.
UPDATE 16 January 2021: UK CAA have issued this infographic on distraction:
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