Pilot May Have Been Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Expressed Concerns About Fuel Prior to The Accident
The NTSB has released a probable cause report related to an accident which occurred in September of last year in which a Robinson R44 went down in Lake Nocona in Nocona, TX. The pilot was not certificated at the time of the accident. Everyone on board the helicopter survived.
According to the report, on September 30, 2012, at 1845 central daylight time, a Robinson Helicopter R44, N8341W, impacted Lake Nocona, Nocona, Texas. The non-certificated pilot and one passenger received minor injuries. A second passenger was not injured. The helicopter was substantially damaged. The helicopter was registered to the pilot and was being operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which was not operated on a flight plan. The flight originated from Montague, Texas, about 1745.
The non-certificated pilot reported to a Texas Parks and Wildlife officer that they were flying over the lake when the helicopter suffered a “complete engine failure.” He stated that a buzzer was sounding and a flashing light on the control panel was illuminated indicating there was a problem with the helicopter. The helicopter then struck the water. All three occupants were able to exit the helicopter and they were picked up by a boat and transported to the shore.
Following the accident, prior to the arrival of local authorities, the pilot had friends take him to his father’s home where he refused to speak with local authorities. The two passengers were transported to the hospital.
One of the passengers stated to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that he and the other passenger drove to a friend's house earlier in the day, and that the pilot flew the helicopter to this same friend’s house where he landed. He stated that he consumed about 6 beers. He stated that he did not see the pilot consume any alcohol; however, in a statement to local authorities he stated "they had all been hanging out together and drinking beer before they loaded up in [the pilot's] helicopter."
The passenger stated he was seated in the right rear seat during the flight. He stated they flew around for about one hour and they were at an altitude of 40 to 50 feet above the lake just prior to the accident. He stated that the pilot mentioned that they needed to head back in order to have enough fuel to drop the passengers off in Montague and get back to the airport. This passenger stated that he did not hear any warning alarms in the helicopter prior to impacting the water, but that something did sound different to him prior to impact.
The other passenger who was seated in the front of the helicopter stated to local authorities that he consumed about six beers prior to the flight and he estimated that the others drank about the same. He stated that he did not hear any “buzzers” sounding or lights flashing inside the helicopter prior to it impacting the water.
The non-certificated pilot did not provide a statement to either the NTSB or the FAA; however, the pilot's attorney did provide a statement that he spoke with the pilot and there was no reason to believe that there was a failure or malfunction with either the helicopter or the engine. According the FAA, the pilot was issued a third-class airmen medical certificate in 2008. The medical certificate was subsequently revoked due to falsification of records.
A postaccident inspection of the wreckage revealed that the right fuel tank was intact, but was partially pulled away from the fuselage. The left fuel tank was intact and it remained attached in place. Both fuel tanks were empty. It was not determined if the fuel lines from the tanks to the engine were compromised.
Local authorities reported that multiple cans and bottles of beer were recovered as they floated out from the wreckage.
The NTSB determined the probable cause(s) of this accident to be the noncertificated pilot’s operation of the helicopter, which resulted in impact with the water.
(R44 pictured in file photo. Not accident aircraft)