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Mon, May 22, 2023

NTSB Prelim: Airbus Helicopters EC130

The Purpose Of The Flight Was To Perform Aerial Hunting Of Wild Pigs

Location: Carta Valley, TX Accident Number: CEN23LA178
Date & Time: May 6, 2023, 16:05 Local Registration: N254DM
Aircraft: Airbus Helicopters EC130 Injuries: 1 Serious, 3 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Aerial observation

On May 6, 2023, about 1605 central daylight time, an Airbus Helicopters EC-130T2 helicopter, N254DM, sustained no damage when it was involved in an accident near Carta Valley, Texas. The pilot and two passengers sustained no injuries and one passenger sustained serious injuries. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 aerial observation flight.

The purpose of the flight was to perform aerial hunting of wild pigs on the Rancho Bellas Rocas. The Rancho Bellas Rocas is a large privately-owned remote ranch located about 35 miles northeast of the border with Mexico. The ranch property is located on the southwestern edge of the Edwards Plateau and has rolling hills and bluffs. 

The pilot, an independent contractor, was in the front center seat and the owner of the ranch who is also the owner of the helicopter, was in the front left seat as a passenger. A passenger, who is an independent contractor, was in the rear left seat and another passenger was in the rear right seat. The two independent contractors were hired by the ranch owner to operate the helicopter. The two passengers in the cabin were participating in the aerial hunting of wild pigs utilizing 12-gauge shotguns. All four occupants were utilizing Bose A20 aviation headsets for the flight.

The rear right passenger is a friend of the ranch owner’s son. The rear right passenger had flown in the helicopter previously and had participated in previous aerial hunting sessions of wild pigs.

Just prior to departure about 1500, the passengers were briefed by the pilot on various safety topics. These safety topics included the use and operation of the restraint systems, how to exit the helicopter during an emergency, main rotor blade safety when utilizing the shotguns, and several other safety topics. Prior to flight, the two cabin doors were locked in the open position to facilitate the use of the shotguns. The rear left passenger performed a final walk around inspection of the helicopter with no issues noted. 

The helicopter departed from the Mafrige Ranch Airport (2TA9), Carta Valley, Texas, and began the low-level aerial hunting work. 2TA9 is located on the Rancho Bellas Rocas. During the flight, several herds of wild pigs were located and were engaged by the two passengers utilizing their shotguns on the western and southern portions of the ranch. After following a large black-tailed jackrabbit for a few minutes, the pilot brought the helicopter to an out-ofground effect hover, about 50 ft agl. During this time, the pilot assessed that the helicopter needed to be refueled back at 2TA9. The helicopter was slowing moving forward during the hover, when the rear right passenger departed from the helicopter. The rear left passenger observed this sequence from the “corner of his eye” and as he was turning his head to the right, he observed the rear right passenger depart from the cabin.

At the time of the departure, the rear right passenger was facing forward in the cabin. The rear right passenger then turned his body about 90° to the right facing outwards from the cabin, he stepped on the pedestal mounted on the right skid, he stood up, and then he took a step forward. The rear right passenger was holding his shotgun when he departed the helicopter. The rear left passenger immediately notified the pilot about what he observed. The pilot maneuvered the helicopter to the right and landed to the south of where the rear right passenger came to rest on the ground on ranch property. The rear right passenger was found unconscious with serious injuries, and he was breathing. The shotgun was found in multiple pieces on the ground next to him. The rear right passenger was loaded onto the helicopter, both cabin doors were closed, and the helicopter departed for 2TA9. While the helicopter was being refueled at 2TA9, the pilot contacted emergency services via cellular phone. The emergency services operator reported to the pilot that their response time would be “extremely lengthy.” The pilot opted to fly the rear right passenger directly to the hospital, as to provide quicker access for medical treatment.

After the helicopter was refueled, the pilot, the rear left passenger, and the rear right passenger departed about 1620 for the helipad at the Val Verde Medical Center, Del Rio, Texas. The helicopter landed at the helipad about 1640, as the medical staff were awaiting the helicopter’s arrival. The pilot shutdown the helicopter and opened the cabin doors to facilitate access for the medical staff. About 1700, the rear right passenger departed in a civilian air medical helicopter for the Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. 

The injured passenger was in the rear right seat for the whole flight. That seat is equipped with a four-point restraint system. The rear right passenger utilized the lap portion of the restraint system for the flight. After the rear right passenger departed the helicopter, the buckle on the lap portion was found disconnected. The rear right passenger was not utilizing an additional harness for the aerial hunting work, nor was he required to by the Federal Aviation Administration. During the flight, the rear right passenger was “quiet” and did not do or say anything abnormal. The right rear passenger did not seem to be fatigued or impaired by the other occupants.

The owner of the helicopter reported that there were no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airframe or the engine that would have precluded normal operation. The helicopter was equipped with a radar altimeter and an Appareo Vision 1000 recording device. The helicopter is also known as an Airbus Helicopters ACH130 Aston Martin Edition, a collaboration project between Airbus Helicopters and Aston Martin, with special interior and exterior designs. The helicopter was retained by the National Transportation Safety Board at a secure location for further examination work.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has published the Ecology and Management of Wild Pigs, which classifies wild pigs as an exotic invasive species. This document discusses the aerial hunting of wild pigs and states in part:

Shooting wild pigs while flying in fixed wing or rotary aircrafts is often referred to as aerial gunning. Aerial gunning is a highly effective means of quickly reducing wild pig populations in areas with large expanses of sparse canopy cover and high densities of wild pigs.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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