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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 153627
Last updated: 18 September 2021
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Type:Silhouette image of generic B407 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Bell 407
Owner/operator:Polar Challenge Ltd
Registration: N44EA
MSN: 53566
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:120 miles N of Patriot Hills, Northern section of the Ronne Ice Shelf -   Antarctica
Phase: En route
Departure airport:Patriot Hills, Antarctica
Destination airport:Fossil Bluff, Antarctica
Investigating agency: AAIB
The helicopter and crew were involved in an attempt to circumnavigate the earth from Pole to Pole. The expedition had departed New York in October 2003 and had reached the South Pole on 17 December 2003. On the day of the accident, the helicopter had begun its northward journey and was attempting to fly from Patriot Hills (some 600 nm north of the South Pole) to Fossil Bluff via a fuel cache about 340 miles north of Patriot Hills.

The crew received a meteorological briefing at Patriot Hills, which included satellite imagery, and they took advice from a professional pilot with many years of Antarctic flying experience. It was agreed that the weather looked suitable for the flight, and the helicopter departed Patriot Hills under clear skies. The flight proceeded uneventfully at 1,000 feet agl until about 100 miles south of the fuel cache the cloud cover increased, although the cloud base remained high and visibility was good.

Without warning, the helicopter entered 'white-out' conditions, and the crew lost all visual references. They attempted to fly out of the conditions by reversing their course, but without success, and so the commander decided to attempt a landing. With the non-handling pilot calling out radio altitude, the commander commenced a descent and began to reduce speed. As the helicopter passed through about 200 feet agl, the crew were still unable to see the surface and the commander began to slow the helicopter from 60 knots.

At a speed of about 45 knots and just as the non-handling pilot called a radio altitude of 140 feet, the helicopter struck the surface abruptly. The engine stopped immediately and the helicopter came to a halt upright, having suffered severe damage to the tail boom, rotor blades and fuselage. The commander suffered back injuries consistent with a high vertical velocity at impact whilst the non-handling pilot suffered a dislocated elbow.

Nevertheless, they were able to vacate the helicopter and take shelter from the -30C ambient temperature. They activated their search and rescue contingency plans, which included an emergency locator beacon and a satellite telephone.

About four hours after the accident a Twin Otter landed at the crash site and rescued the crew. In his report, the commander noted the prevalence of 'white-out ' conditions in Antarctica and stated that the accident might have been avoided if he had decided to land sooner. He also reported that pilots experienced in Antarctic flying were aware of a tendency for radio altimeters to misread over a dry snow surface

Nature of Damage to airframe: Per the AAIB repport "Destroyed". As a result, the US registration N44EA was cancelled by the FAA, but not until on 11-05-2015, almost 12 years later.


1. AAIB:
2. FAA:

Accident investigation:
Investigating agency: AAIB
Status: Investigation completed
Download report: Final report

Revision history:

01-Mar-2013 11:09 TB Added
01-Mar-2013 11:18 TB Updated [Operator, Source]
04-Mar-2013 03:25 TB Updated [Time, Total occupants, Location, Phase, Nature, Narrative]
31-Jul-2016 11:43 Dr.John Smith Updated [Operator, Location, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
31-Jul-2016 11:51 Dr.John Smith Updated [Location, Source]

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