National Transportation Safety Board
Aviation Accident Final Report

 

 

Location:

GALENA, AK

Accident Number:

ANC02LA043

Date & Time:

06/06/2002, 1845 AKD

Registration:

N7130G

Aircraft:

Robinson R-44

Aircraft Damage:

Destroyed

Defining Event:

 

Injuries:

3 None

Flight Conducted Under:

Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter - Non-scheduled

Analysis

The commercial certificated pilot landed the skid-equipped helicopter in an area of brush/grass to pick up two passengers who had been conducting a ground survey.  The pilot stayed at the controls of the helicopter, and reduced the engine rpm to 70 percent as the ground personnel were loading their equipment into external baskets on the helicopter. The equipment included packs and a chain saw.  The ground personnel reported that the chain saw had not been used in the previous hour, and the engine was cold.  The pilot smelled smoke, and the passengers noticed flames under the helicopter.  The pilot attempted to regain full engine rpm to lift-off from the landing area, but was unable to do so because the engine quit running.  The pilot exited the helicopter, and along with the ground personnel, attempted to extinguish the flames on the ground.  They were unsuccessful, and the pilot attempted to restart the helicopter.  It would not start.  The fire consumed the helicopter, and about 60 acres of brush/grass.  This model helicopter's exhaust system is positioned at the rear and bottom portion of the aft fuselage.  The underside of the engine area is open, allowing cooling-fan air to exit aft and downward, around the muffler and exhaust.  The bottom of the muffler, at the rear area of the engine compartment is about 19.5 inches above the ground.  The exhaust pipe, routed through the rear bulkhead of the engine compartment, exits the aft end of the fuselage about 27 inches above the ground.  The pilot/operator manual for the helicopter contains a safety advisory that states, in part:  "Never land in tall dry grass.  The exhaust is low to the ground and very hot; a grass fire may be ignited."

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's selection of unsuitable terrain for landing which precipitated a grass fire.  Factors contributing to the accident were the manufacturer's inadequate design of the helicopter's exhaust system, placing it low to the ground, and terrain conditions consisting of dry tussock grass.

Findings

 

Occurrence #1: FIRE
Phase of Operation: STANDING - IDLING ROTORS

Findings
1. (F) EXHAUST SYSTEM
2. (F) ACFT/EQUIP,INADEQUATE DESIGN - MANUFACTURER
3. (F) TERRAIN CONDITION - GRASS
4. (C) UNSUITABLE TERRAIN OR TAKEOFF/LANDING/TAXI AREA - SELECTED - PILOT IN COMMAND

 

Factual Information

On June 6, 2002, about 1845 Alaska daylight time, a skid-equipped Robinson R-44 helicopter, N7130G, was destroyed by fire after landing about 5 miles east of Galena, Alaska.  The helicopter was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) on-demand passenger flight under Title 14, CFR Part 135, when the accident occurred.  The helicopter was operated by Quicksilver Air Inc., Fairbanks, Alaska.  The commercial certificated pilot, and two ground personnel, were not injured.  Visual meteorological conditions prevailed.  VFR company flight following procedures were in effect.

During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC), on June 7, the director of operations for the operator reported the pilot landed in an area of brush/grass to pick up two passengers who had been conducting a ground survey.  The pilot stayed at the controls of the helicopter, and reduced the engine rpm to 70 percent as the ground personnel were loading their equipment into external baskets on the helicopter.  The pilot told the director of operations that he smelled smoke, and the passengers noticed flames under the helicopter.  The director of operations said that the pilot attempted to regain full engine rpm to lift-off from the landing area, but was unable to do so because the engine quit.  The pilot exited the helicopter, and along with the ground personnel, attempted to extinguish the flames on the ground.  They were unsuccessful, and the pilot attempted to restart the helicopter.  It would not start.  The fire consumed the helicopter, and about 60 acres of brush/grass.

According to statements provided by the ground personnel, they indicated that after the helicopter landed, they began to load packs and a chain saw while the pilot remained at the controls.  The ground personnel reported that the chain saw had not been used in the previous hour, and the engine was cold.  The ground cover was described as dry, knee-high tussock grass.  The engine was running and rotors were turning.  Within 30 seconds to one minute after landing, flames were observed under the rear of the helicopter.  The ground personnel indicated that the pilot attempted to regain full power to lift off, but the engine quit.  The pilot exited the helicopter and attempted to put the fire out.  The pilot reentered the helicopter and tried to restart the engine, but was unsuccessful.  All three persons removed their packs from the helicopter and moved away from the spreading fire.

The Robinson R-44 helicopter's carbureted engine is positioned aft of the main cabin and is partially enclosed by cowling and structure.  The engine's exhaust system consists of exhaust tubing from the engine cylinders, routed into a laterally mounted muffler, out of which is an exhaust pipe.  The exhaust system is positioned at the rear and bottom portion of the aft fuselage.  The underside of the engine area is open, allowing cooling-fan air to exit aft and downward, around the muffler and exhaust.  The bottom of the muffler, at the rear area of the engine compartment is about 19.5 inches above the ground.  The exhaust pipe, routed through the rear bulkhead of the engine compartment, exits the aft end of the fuselage about 27 inches above the ground.

The pilot/operator manual for the helicopter contains a safety advisory that states, in part:  "Never land in tall dry grass.  The exhaust is low to the ground and very hot; a grass fire may be ignited."

 

 

 

 

Pilot Information

Certificate:

Flight Instructor; Commercial

Age:

32, Male

Airplane Rating(s):

None

Seat Occupied:

Right

Other Aircraft Rating(s):

Helicopter

Restraint Used:

Seatbelt, Shoulder harness

Instrument Rating(s):

None

Second Pilot Present:

No

Instructor Rating(s):

Helicopter

Toxicology Performed:

No

Medical Certification:

Class 2 Valid Medical--w/ waivers/lim.

Last FAA Medical Exam:

07/12/2001

Occupational Pilot:

 

Last Flight Review or Equivalent:

03/16/2002

Flight Time:

1986 hours (Total, all aircraft), 864 hours (Total, this make and model), 1930 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 87 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 43 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 4 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

 

 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make:

Robinson

Registration:

N7130G

Model/Series:

R-44

Aircraft Category:

Helicopter

Year of Manufacture:

 

Amateur Built:

No

Airworthiness Certificate:

Normal

Serial Number:

0542

Landing Gear Type:

Skid

Seats:

4

Date/Type of Last Inspection:

05/16/2002, Annual

Certified Max Gross Wt.:

2400 lbs

Time Since Last Inspection:

21.1 Hours

Engines:

1 Reciprocating

Airframe Total Time:

1362.8 Hours at time of accident

Engine Manufacturer:

LYCOMING

ELT:

Installed, not activated

Engine Model/Series:

O-540-F1B5

Registered Owner:

QUICKSILVER AIR INC.

Rated Power:

260 hp

Operator:

QUICKSILVER AIR INC.

Operating Certificate(s) Held:

On-demand Air Taxi (135)

Operator Does Business As:

 

Operator Designator Code:

QOFA

 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site:

Visual Conditions

Condition of Light:

Day

Observation Facility, Elevation:

PAGA, 152 ft msl

Distance from Accident Site:

5 Nautical Miles

Observation Time:

1835 ADT

Direction from Accident Site:

270°

Lowest Cloud Condition:

Clear

Visibility

10 Miles

Lowest Ceiling:

None

Visibility (RVR):

 

Wind Speed/Gusts:

Calm /

Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:

/

Wind Direction:

 

Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:

/

Altimeter Setting:

29.98 inches Hg

Temperature/Dew Point:

23°C / 1°C

Precipitation and Obscuration:

 

Departure Point:

GALENA, AK (PAGA)

Type of Flight Plan Filed:

Company VFR

Destination:

 

Type of Clearance:

None

Departure Time:

1815 ADT

Type of Airspace:

Class G

 

 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries:

1 None

Aircraft Damage:

Destroyed

Passenger Injuries:

2 None

Aircraft Fire:

On-Ground

Ground Injuries:

N/A

Aircraft Explosion:

None

Total Injuries:

3 None

Latitude, Longitude:

64.740278, -156.725278

 


 


Administrative Information

Investigator In Charge (IIC):

SCOTT ERICKSON

Report Date:

02/25/2003

Additional Participating Persons:

STEVE KETZER; FAA-AL-FAI FSDO 01; FAIRBANKS, AK

Publish Date:

 

Investigation Docket:

NTSB accident and incident dockets serve as permanent archival information for the NTSB’s investigations. Dockets released prior to June 1, 2009 are publicly available from the NTSB’s Record Management Division at pubinq@ntsb.gov, or at 800-877-6799. Dockets released after this date are available at http://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms/.