NTSB Factual Report Shows Two Substances FAA Says Are 'Not
Appropriate' For Use While Flying
The NTSB has released a factual report in a 2010 accident in
Georgia in which the pilot of a Robinson R44 (N34JS) and his
passenger were fatally injured. On August 2 1900 EDT, the
helicopter collided with mountainous terrain while maneuvering near
Blood Mountain, Blairsville, Georgia. Instrument meteorological
conditions (IMC) prevailed around the accident site, and no flight
plan was filed for the flight which departed Madison Municipal
Airport (52A), Madison, Georgia, about 1830, and was destined for
the Brasstown Valley Resort, Young Harris, Georgia. The personal
flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal
Regulations Part 91.
R44 File Photo
The flight originated from West Palm Beach, Florida, early on
the morning of the accident date. According to fuel receipts, fuel
was purchased for the accident helicopter at 1809, at 52A. In a
telephone interview, the airport manager said that the pilot
purchased fuel, advised the resort by telephone of his pending
arrival, boarded the helicopter and departed. When the helicopter
did not arrive as expected, a search was initiated, and an Alert
Notice (ALNOT) was issued on August 4, 2010. The wreckage was
located from the air by the Civil Air Patrol on August 6, 2010.
In a telephone interview, a friend of the pilot stated that the
purpose of the flight was to attend a motorcycle racing event in
Georgia. The friend owned the Robinson Helicopter sales and service
center where the pilot/owner of the accident helicopter purchased
and maintained his helicopter. He said the pilot had asked him to
go along on the trip, but he couldn't due to a prior commitment.
According to the friend, "He asked me to go and I told him, 'You
really need mountain experience before you go.' I gave him a few
pointers, but there was no talking him out of it. He called me
Monday morning (August 2, 2010) or Sunday and asked me a few more
questions about flying through the mountains. He didn't give me the
route of flight. I just knew he was going to the motocross
In a telephone interview, a witness who lived about 8 miles
south of the accident site stated that she heard a small helicopter
approach her house and went outside to watch, as she "loved"
airplanes and helicopters. She said she was unable to see the
helicopter as it passed, because her view was blocked by trees. She
said the helicopter passed by between 1800 and 1900, and that the
sound of the helicopter was smooth and continuous.
The pilot was issued a private pilot certificate with a rating
for rotorcraft-helicopter on September 28, 2009. The pilot's
logbook was not recovered and his total flight experience could not
be determined. His most recent FAA second class medical certificate
was issued in May 2009. He reported 11 hours of flight experience
on that date.
According to FAA records, the helicopter was manufactured in
2006. A review of the helicopter's maintenance logbooks revealed
its most recent annual inspection was completed February 26, 2010,
at 299.4 total aircraft hours.
At 1853, the weather conditions reported at Lee Gilmer Memorial
Airport (GVL), 31 miles south of the accident site, at 1,276 feet
elevation, included scattered clouds at 1,600 feet and an overcast
ceiling at 2,500 feet. The visibility was 5 miles in haze, the
temperature was 26 degrees C, the dew point 23 degrees C, and the
altimeter setting was 30.10 inches of mercury. The winds were from
120 degrees at 3 knots.
According to a Safety Board senior meteorologist, AIRMET Sierra
update number 4 was current over the area that encompassed the
route of flight and the crash site for mountain obscuration
conditions. GOES-13 visible satellite images from over the accident
site around the time of the accident depicted an area of low
stratiform clouds that extended over the area, and supported the
AIRMET for mountain obscuration.
According to the Lockheed Martin Office of Quality Assurance,
the pilot did not request a weather briefing nor file a flight plan
prior to the accident flight.
The helicopter was examined at the site on August 7, 2010, and
all major components were accounted for at the scene. The accident
site was located on steep, mountainous, heavily wooded terrain,
about 3,100 feet elevation, below the peak of Blood Mountain, which
rose to 4,436 feet elevation. The initial impact points were in
trees that stood about 6 feet apart, and were perpendicular to the
direction of flight. The scars on the trees were consistent with a
200-degree direction of flight, approximately parallel with the
The downhill tree displayed a large, almost rectangular scar,
about 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide. The uphill tree was
scarred at the same elevation, with a deep, horizontal slash about
the same dimension as the leading edge of a main rotor blade.
The main rotor hub and blade assembly, with the swashplate and
support assembly attached, was located at the base of the first
trees struck. One rotor blade was intact but impact damaged. The
other blade was fractured and separated about 5 feet outboard of
the hub. The rotor blade fragments, including the tip with tip
weight attached, were accounted for farther down the wreckage
The initial ground scar was about 30 feet beyond the first tree
strikes on a rock slope of about 60 degrees. The fall line was
oriented about 090 degrees. The remainder of the helicopter was
scattered down slope over a distance of about 170 feet. The tail
section, with the vertical fin, tail rotor gear box, tail rotor
assembly, and tail rotor driveshaft were about 100 feet below the
initial ground scar. These components were impact and fire damaged.
One tail rotor blade appeared severely fire-damaged. The skin was
intact, but split along the trailing edge, and the core of the
blade appeared consumed by fire.
The main fuselage, with the engine, transmission, and tail boom
attached, came to rest against a tree about 40 feet below the tail
section. The components were heavily damaged by impact and post
crash fire. Control continuity could not be established, but all
breaks were consistent with overload or fire damage. All of the
flight instruments located were either completely destroyed, or
provided no useful information.
A detailed examination of the wreckage could not be conducted at
the site due to terrain, and was scheduled for a later date.
The wreckage was recovered from the site by helicopter on
November 12, 2010. The complete tailrotor, tailrotor gearbox, and
the empennage were stolen from the site prior to recovery. The tail
rotor driveshaft was cut with a saw, forward of the gearbox, to
affect the theft. A detailed examination of the remaining wreckage
was conducted in Griffin, Georgia on November 18, 2010.
The examination revealed that all airframe and component damage
was due to impact and fire. The engine could not be rotated due to
impact, fire, and corrosion damage. Several holes were drilled in
the crankcase halves, and the powertrain and valve train were
examined by borescope. The borescope examination revealed no
evidence of abnormal wear or pre-impact mechanical anomaly. The
engine cooling fan scroll inlet lip displayed rotational
The main transmission displayed impact and fire damage, and
continuity was established through the input drive to the main
mast. Flight control continuity could not be established due to
impact, fire, and missing components.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Division of Forensic Sciences, Georgia Bureau of
Investigation, for the State of Georgia, performed the autopsy on
the pilot in Decatur, Georgia. The autopsy report indicated that
the pilot died as a result of “traumatic injuries…due
to helicopter crash.”
The autopsy noted that the pilot had greater than or equal to
60% occlusion of unnamed cardiac vessels. It could not be
determined if the pilot would have had any symptoms from his
coronary artery disease and thus it cannot be determined if the
condition posed a significant hazard to flight safety.
The FAA’s Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing of the
pilot. Tissue specimens from the pilot tested positive for
bupropion, diphenydramine, and phentermine.
Bupropion is an antidepressant medication used to treat major
depressive disorder and seasonal affective disorder. At least one
brand of bupropion (Zyban) is used to help people stop smoking by
reducing cravings and other withdrawal effects.
Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that blocks the effects of
the naturally occurring chemical histamine in the body.
Diphenhydramine is used to treat sneezing; runny nose; itching,
watery eyes; hives; rashes; itching; and other symptoms of
allergies and the common cold.
Phentermine is a stimulant that is similar to an amphetamine.
Phentermine is an appetite suppressant that affects the central
nervous system. According to the FAA, Bupropion and Phentermine
were not appropriate for use while flying. It could not be
determined whether the pilot's use of medications posed a
significant hazard to flight safety.
The pilot's medical and pharmacology histories could not be
established. Numerous records requests were made to the pilot's
psychiatrist, with no response. A subpoena was then issued July 15,
2011, received, and signed for on July 19, 2011, with no response.
When a follow-up telephone call was made, it was learned that the
psychiatrist's practice was closed, and the telephone had been
disconnected. Efforts to locate the psychiatrist were
According to the pilot's May 11, 2009, Application for Airman
Medical Certificate, FAA Form 8500-8, Item 17, "Do You Currently
Use Any Medication (Prescription or Nonprescription)?" the pilot
responded that he did not. Further, Item 18, "Have you ever in your
life been diagnosed with, had, or do you presently have any of the
following? (m) "Mental disorders of any sort, depression, anxiety,
etc." the pilot again responded that he did not.
A review of pharmaceutical records revealed that the pilot had
filled prescriptions from his psychiatrist for a wide range of
anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, sleep, and stimulant medications, as
well as heart medication, for years prior to his application for an
FAA medical certificate.