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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 199668
Last updated: 4 June 2021
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Time:16:53 UTC
Type:Silhouette image of generic A139 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
AgustaWestland AW139
Owner/operator:Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD)
Registration: N304FD
MSN: 41528
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Substantial
Location:Verdugo Hills, CA -   United States of America
Phase: Manoeuvring (airshow, firefighting, ag.ops.)
Nature:Fire fighting
Departure airport:Los Angeles-Van Nuys Airport, CA (VNY/KVNY)
Destination airport:Tujunga, CA
A Leonardo AW139 helicopter (Fire 4), operated by the City of Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) suffered substantial damage after reportedly contacting a pine tree. An emergency landing was carried out.
The aircraft was engaged in aerial firefighting activities.

NTSB preliminary report :

On September 2, 2017, about 0948 Pacific daylight time, a Leonardo (formerly AugustaWestland Philadelphia) AW139 helicopter, N304FD, sustained substantial damage after impacting trees while conducting aerial firefighting operations in a residential area in Tujunga, California. The pilot and crewmember sustained no injuries. The helicopter was registered to the City of Los Angeles and was operated by the Los Angeles Fire Department as a public use visual flight rules aerial firefighting flight, operating as Fire 4. Visual meteorological conditions with moderate smoke were present in the area at the time of the accident and flight following procedures were utilized by the operator. The helicopter departed from the Van Nuys Airport, Van Nuys, California about 0815 to conduct the aerial firefighting operations for the day.

The operator reported that the helicopter was in support of the La Tuna wildfire, that was spreading throughout the Verdugo Mountains. The helicopter was tasked with structure protection for a residential complex on a ridgeline, about one half mile northeast of Interstate 210, known as the Foothill Freeway. The pilot was stationed in the right seat, and a helicopter pilot crewmember, who was not type rated in the AW139 model, was stationed in the left seat. The helicopter was operating with several other firefighting helicopters, which were all supporting the structure protection for the residential complex via water drops. The team of helicopters were operating out of the Green Verdugo helispot, which is located next to the Green Verdugo reservoir about 2 miles northwest of the residential complex.

Once on station, the pilot performed a high reconnaissance orbit over the residential complex, with the intent of conducting a water drop from the south to the north. During the high reconnaissance, the pilot noted the prevailing wind, the smoke conditions, the ground obstructions, and his intended approach and departure route for the water drop. The pilot reported the wind condition was variable and originated from the east.

When the pilot was flying from south to north to drop the water in a descending profile, about 100 feet above the trees and about 40 knots, and about 200 feet away from the residential complex, the helicopter began an uncommanded yaw to the right and the vertical descent increased. The pilot released the water and the helicopter continued to yaw to the right and descend rapidly. The pilot reported he had little positive control of the helicopter. The crewmember verbally called out the trees located on the left side of the helicopter. The main rotor blades impacted a eucalyptus tree, following with the tailboom and tail rotor system impacting a pine tree. After the tree impacts, the uncommanded yaw appeared to decrease and the pilot regained control of the helicopter. The pilot departed from the residential complex area by initiating a climbing turn to the northwest and initiated a mayday call. The pilot flew about 1 mile north, and made a landing at a school athletic field without further incident.

The helicopter was equipped with a Simplex Aerospace model 326 GII aerial firefighting belly-mounted tank that has the capability to hold 450 gallons of water via a supplemental type certificate.

The pilot reported that there were no preimpact mechanical failures or malfunctions with the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation.

The helicopter sustained substantial damage to the left stabilizer, the right stabilizer, and the tailboom. The heliocopter was secured and is pending transportation to the manufacturer's repair station for a comprehensive damage assessment.

The cockpit voice recordings, the flight data recordings, the terrain awareness and warning system data, and the flight tracking system data were secured for future download of the various data parameters.

NTSB Probable Cause A yaw excursion and uncontrolled descent due to loss of tail rotor effectiveness during aerial firefighting operations resulting in an impact with trees.

A contributing factor was the pilot’s failure to maintain sufficient airspeed, coupled with a quartering tailwind during aerial firefighting operations. An additional factor was the operator’s lack of guidance to the hazards associated with aerial firefighting operations near and around smoke columns.





Photo of N304FD courtesy

Van Nuys (KVNY / VNY)
1 February 2020; (c) Adrian Romang

Revision history:

13-Sep-2017 19:30 harro Added
13-Sep-2017 19:30 harro Updated [Aircraft type, Embed code]
13-Sep-2017 19:32 harro Updated [Narrative]
31-Aug-2018 21:22 Iceman 29 Updated [Time, Total occupants, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Embed code, Narrative]
14-Jan-2021 20:05 Aerossurance Updated [Source, Embed code]
21-May-2021 18:10 Aerossurance Updated [Operator, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
22-May-2021 10:08 Aerossurance Updated [Embed code]

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