EASTLAND, Texas — A CareFlite medical helicopter with a crew of three on board crashed near Eastland on Sunday morning on its way to pick up a patient. All three CareFlite personnel suffered "minor to moderate" but not life-threatening injuries, said company president and CEO Jim Swartz, who referred to the incident as a "hard landing." The crash site — near County Road 309 — was less than six miles from the Eastland Municipal Airport, where the patient was waiting. Photos from the crash site in a farm field showed the cabin of the helicopter on its left side but with the tail rotor in an upright position.
Department of Public Safety spokesman Trooper Sparky Dean said the injured were taken by ground ambulance to a hospital in Eastland. He said the helicopter's engine was still running when it hit the ground around 9:30 a.m. Swartz said the cause of the accident was unknown, but added that the crew of the 10-year-old Agusta 109 helicopter was experienced. He said there will be a full investigation. The company was dispatching ambulances to bring the injured employees back to Fort Worth. They were identified as: Pilot Scott Wayne Wallace, 58, of Fort Worth Medic Teresa Lynn Campbell, 53, of Granbury Medic Rhett Derek Drahen, 34, of Frisco All three were said to be conscious and talking at the crash site. Representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to examine the wreckage on Monday. Eastland, the seat of Eastland County, is about 90 miles southwest of Fort Worth. A pilot and a mechanic were killed two years ago in the fiery crash of a CareFlite helicopter in Ellis County.
Last edited by Senior Pilot; 1st Oct 2012 at 22:10.
Reason: Add two photos
Heard they took off VFR, encountered IMC, the pilot engaged the autopilot, and it went into a rapid descent. It's always essential to know exactly what the autopilot is going to do before you engage it.
Why did he wait till encountering IFR to engage the autopilot?
Possibly means the Upper Modes; ie, Heading/Altitude holds etc. Our AP is engaged all the time by the holds aren't.
SOP is to engage the holds in the event of in-advertant IMC. This caused a problem with one operator a few years ago, when the pilot entered cloud, engaged the holds and the heading defaulted to North(as it was designed to), and the aircraft started turning, which the pilot wasn't expecting.
Due to low hours on type, instead of pressing the button to turn the holds off, he dumped the AP and the SAS an ended up with a totally unstabilised aircraft. They ended up in an untidy heap on the ground, fortunately without serious injury to the crew.
The heading hold(EC 135) has since been modded to take up the current heading when engaged.
This accident looks unusual. Certainly it doesn't look like a simple wire-strike to me and I'd be very surprised if the broken wires in the photo were anything other than collateral damage.
If the circumstances are as reported above by Gomer pylot, and it was an AP issue, on this type of aircraft (which is fully certificated for SPIFR btw), I can think of only two reasons why the autopilot would cause a rapid descent.
1. VS mode engaged with a large ROD set on the VSI.
2. An AP fault when the ALT mode was engaged.
I certainly wouldn't discount the second reason; I personally experienced this a number of times on an A109, albeit some years ago. Because it seemed to occur on a random basis it required in depth investigation, with the aircraft placed on ground power on jacks with the gear retracted for a prolonged period of time. Eventually the glitch was found and the AP computer was changed, which fixed it.
Looking at the initial photographs. I would also argue against a hard landing. During landing phase, I would expect the gear to be down and locked. In these images the gear appears to be firmly stowed in the up position.
Granbury, TX (base area) approximately sunrise, an hour or so before estimate take off: METAR KGDJ 301235Z AUTO 32008KT 10SM OVC011 18/17 A2989 RMK AO2 METAR KGDJ 301255Z AUTO 31007KT 10SM OVC011 18/17 A2989 RMK AO2 METAR KGDJ 301315Z AUTO 31007KT 10SM OVC011 19/17 A2990 RMK AO2 METAR KGDJ 301335Z AUTO 31006KT 10SM OVC011 19/17 A2990 RMK AO2 METAR KGDJ 301355Z AUTO 32005KT 10SM BKN013 OVC055 20/17 A2990 RMK AO2 METAR KGDJ 301415Z AUTO 33004KT 10SM BKN013 OVC019 20/18 A2990 RMK AO2
Eastland has no weather, but KSEP, South of and more or less intermediate of a direct course: METAR KSEP 301215Z AUTO 34012G16KT 10SM OVC007 17/16 A2991 RMK AO1 METAR KSEP 301235Z AUTO 34012KT 10SM OVC005 17/16 A2991 RMK AO1 METAR KSEP 301255Z AUTO 35011G16KT 10SM OVC007 17/16 A2992 RMK AO1 METAR KSEP 301315Z AUTO 34012G17KT 10SM OVC007 18/16 A2993 RMK AO1 METAR KSEP 301335Z AUTO 35011G16KT 10SM OVC007 18/16 A2993 RMK AO1 METAR KSEP 301355Z AUTO 35011G15KT 10SM SCT007 OVC010 18/16 A2994 RMK AO1 METAR KSEP 301415Z AUTO 35011G16KT 10SM OVC010 18/16 A2994 RMK AO1
North of destination, KBKD: METAR KBKD 301215Z AUTO 35006KT 10SM OVC004 18/18 A2993 RMK AO2 METAR KBKD 301235Z AUTO 35006KT 7SM OVC006 18/18 A2993 RMK AO2 METAR KBKD 301255Z AUTO 34009KT 7SM OVC006 19/18 A2993 RMK AO2 METAR KBKD 301315Z AUTO 34008KT 7SM OVC006 19/18 A2994 RMK AO2 METAR KBKD 301335Z AUTO 35010G16KT 7SM BKN006 OVC013 19/18 A2995 RMK AO2 METAR KBKD 301415Z AUTO 35007KT 5SM BR BKN008 OVC012 19/18 A2996 RMK AO2 P0001 METAR KBKD 301435Z AUTO 35006KT 7SM OVC008 20/18 A2996 RMK AO2 P0002
Historic radar shows light shower activity North and East of destination, moving SE. Incident site South of direct course line with airport North of transferring hospital and the hospital is reported (Skyvector.com) to have a helipad.
It's possible the they were already out and South of Eastland, which would explain the track in from that side.
The go around button on the A-109 series can be more of a distraction than a help. Depending on the series or dash number of the auto pilot installed in the machine the aircraft may have had a restriction on its use below 120 KIAS. If this was the case, activation of the go around mode could have created a situation where the autopilot created a pretty extreme unusual attitude situation for the pilot.