Phoenix, Arizona News Helicopters Collide Killing Eight
On July 27, 2007 KTVK-TV Channel 3 (Ch 3) and KNXS-TV Channel 15 (Ch 15) news helicopters, N613TV and N215TV, respectively, collided in mid air while maneuvering in Phoenix, Arizona. The commercial pilots of both helicopters and one photographer in each helicopter were killed. Both news helicopters were destroyed. Channel 15 News Helicopter departed Scottsdale, Arizona, at 1222, and Channel 3 News Helicopter departed Scottsdale at 1232, as local electronic news gathering (ENG) flights. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plans had been filed.
Both news helicopters were covering a police pursuit on local streets. The suspect’s vehicle had been moving, but he stopped, abandoned it, and acquired another vehicle. The collision occurred during this transition.
The media pilots have a letter of agreement (LOA) with the air traffic control tower for Phoenix International Airport. This letter of agreement provides media pilots with standardized procedures to facilitate their movement in and out of the airspace. It also reduces the workload for the controllers.
A Safety Board air traffic control (ATC) specialist interviewed controllers in the Phoenix air traffic control tower. The air traffic manager reported that about 1223, the pilot of police helicopter “Firebird 8″ contacted the PHX air traffic control tower local control north (LCN) controller. The Firebird pilot requested permission to enter the Class B airspace about 5 nautical miles (nm) north of downtown at 1,800 feet mean sea level (msl) with automatic terminal information service (ATIS) Kilo, and north clearance via Sharp Echo. The LCN reported radar contact, and cleared the pilot to proceed via Sharp Echo as requested.
At 1226:08, the pilot of Ch 15 advised that he had automatic terminal information service (ATIS) information Kilo, was at Camelback Mountain, and requested to enter the Class B airspace via Sharp Echo. The controller acknowledged radar contact, and cleared Ch 15 via Sharp Echo as requested. The pilot indicated that he was heading downtown at 1,800 feet, and intended to intercept the police chase. The tower controller acknowledged and advised that there was a firebird helicopter about 1 1/2 miles west of the Biltmore at 1,900 feet. The Ch 15 pilot reported that he had the helicopter in sight, and would proceed direct to that location. About 2 minutes later, he advised that he was talking to Firebird 8 on another frequency. The tower controller responded that another inbound helicopter was 2 miles north of his position. At 1229:03, the Ch 15 pilot advised that he was climbing to 2,000 feet to stay out of Firebird 8′s way.
About 30 seconds later, LCN cleared SKY 12 into the Class B airspace to also film the chase. The pilot of SKY 12 advised that he would climb to 2,500 feet for traffic avoidance.
Another controller relieved LCN at 1234:39. In the relief briefing, the LCN noted where Firebird 8, Ch 15, and SKY 12 were doing the police chase. Firebird 8 had been cleared in and out of the Class B airspace at his discretion. SKY 12 was the helicopter at 2,500 feet.
At 1235:29, the pilot of Newshawk 5 advised that he was inbound at 2,200 feet with the ATIS. He further stated he would like to come inbound, operate with the other helicopters, and would be talking to them. The LCN controller allowed him to enter the Class B airspace, advised that three helicopters were out there, and offered to give him the call signs. The pilot responded that he had Firebird, SKY 12, and Ch 15 in sight, and thought that Ch 3 was behind him. The LCN tower controller acknowledged.
The Channel 3 news helicopter pilot made radio contact with the LCN controller at 1236:41. Ten seconds later the pilot stated that he was on the west side of Piestewa Peak, requested Sharp Echo for the North Bravo, and was going where the other helicopters were. LCN acknowledged radar contact, and cleared him to proceed via Sharp Echo as requested. LCN pointed out that there were three helicopters on site, and Newshawk 5 was about a mile ahead him. The pilot stated that he had Newshawk in sight, and a couple of the others in sight as well.
At 1244:40, the pilot of SKYFOX 10 advised LCN that he was at Piestewa Peak, and would like to operate in the Class B airspace under Sharp Echo with the others. He stated that he had the other helicopters in sight and would be talking to them. LCN acknowledged radar contact 1 mile southwest of Piestewa Peak, and cleared the pilot in via Sharp Echo as requested. He advised the pilot that there were about five helicopters on site, and one that was just passing his nose. The pilot advised that he saw the helicopter passing in front, and was talking to the other ones.
At 1246:21, the SKYFOX 10 pilot advised that there had just been a midair collision over a park, and that two helicopters were down. About 2 minutes later, the pilot advised that Channel 15 news helicopter and the Channel 3 news helicopter were involved in the collision.
In an interview, the pilot stated that as he was entering the area, the accident helicopters were positioned a reasonable distance apart when he first noticed them. The police helicopter then broadcast that there was going to be a car jacking. He stated that as a pilot, this would indicate to him that he would have to change his position. He glanced away for a moment, and looked back to the accident helicopters while flying toward them. He noted that they had moved closer together. Shortly thereafter, they impacted. He could not say for sure the relative position of each helicopter, but noted that after the collision, Ch 3 broke into many pieces. Ch 15 remained in the air for a second, and then dove nose-first into the ground.
Ch 15 and was on the left side of Ch 3. Upon impact, witnesses said that Ch 3 broke into many pieces and fell to the ground spinning. Ch 15 remained relatively intact except for the main rotor blades. It pointed nose down and collided with the ground. There were no reports of erratic movements prior to the collision, and no unusual sounds or smoke.
Channel 3 News Helicopter Information
The pilot was 42 years old. A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed that he received a private pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land on December 13, 1982. He obtained a commercial pilot certificate on August 24, 1987, with a rating for rotorcraft-helicopter. The pilot held a certified flight instructor (CFI) certificate with a rating for rotorcraft-helicopter; he obtained his most recent certificate on April 27, 2007. The FAA reported that they had no record of accidents, incidents, or enforcement actions in their database involving this pilot.
The FAA issued the pilot a second-class medical certificate on August 8, 2006; it had no limitations or waivers.
Channel 3 News Helicopter Information
The pilot was 47 years old. A review of FAA airman records revealed that he received a private pilot certificate with a rating for rotorcraft-helicopter on May 23, 1990. He obtained a commercial pilot certificate with a rating for rotorcraft-helicopter on December 7, 1990. The FAA reported that they had no record of accidents, incidents, or enforcement actions in their database involving this pilot.
The FAA issued the pilot a second-class medical certificate on December 27, 2006. He held a Statement of Demonstrated Ability (waiver) for defective color vision.
Channel 3 & 15 News Helicopters Wreckage
The main wreckage for each helicopter was in Steele Indian School Park, and they were about 160 feet apart. The accident site elevation was 1,100 feet. The main debris field, which encompassed components from both helicopters, was about 2,160 feet long and 560 feet wide, and north of Indian School Road. The only pieces of debris south of Indian School Road were an outboard segment of the yellow main rotor blade from the Ch 3 helicopter and an outboard segment of the red main rotor blade from the Ch 15 helicopter.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The main rotor blades for the AS350B2 rotate clockwise.
The Ch 3 helicopter’s cabin was primarily white. The forward half of the tail boom was red. Going aft, the tail boom paint scheme transitioned to dark orange; this section included the horizontal stabilizers. Aft of the horizontal stabilizers, it transitioned to light orange; the tail rotor was attached to this section. The aft portion of the tail boom consisted of the vertical stabilizer and tail cone, which were yellow.
Fire consumed most of the main fuselage section. The tail boom section separated into several pieces.
The section of the tail boom forward of the tail rotor comprised one section. It had clockwise crush damage. The forward right section of the right horizontal stabilizer had a camera attached, and separated in an upward direction. The aft section of the left stabilizer separated, and was north of the main wreckage. It exhibited accordion crush damage in an outward direction. Investigators observed smeared zinc chromate primer transfer in a clockwise direction on the upper center section of the tail boom and horizontal stabilizer.
The aft tail boom comprised another piece. It exhibited a crush mark on the left side that was upward and to the right.
The remainder of the tail section with the tail rotor attached comprised a third major piece. The right side of the vertical fin exhibited punctures with black rub marks. The front of this section exhibited clockwise twisting with blue-gray paint and zinc chromate primer transfer. One tail rotor exhibited a flattened strike tab with chordwise scoring and orange paint transfer on the leading edge. The airframe manufacturer’s investigator noted indications of flapping. The tail rotor drive shaft separated at the front end of this separated section; the fracture surface was angular and twisted. The tail rotor pitch change rod separated just forward of the tail rotor bell crank input along a 45-degree angle.
Main Rotor Blades
Charring encompassed the area 4 to 5 feet from the blade root. The blade portion aft of the spar from approximately 11 feet out was missing. The blade sustained mechanical damage and separation 14 to 15 feet from the blade root. Investigators observed blue-gray and orange paint transfer marks on the leading edge from about 12 feet out to the separation point. The end plate and weights separated; investigators recovered them several hundred feet north-northwest of the main wreckage.
Investigators observed significant mechanical damage 5 feet and 11 feet from the blade root, and the blade separated at these points. The leading edge stainless steel strip was missing from 9 to 11 feet. The blade sustained thermal damage from the root out to 11 feet; there was no thermal damage on the outboard separated pieces. The end plate was intact.
The blade portion aft of the spar was missing from 4 feet 4 inches and outboard. Investigators observed mechanical damage to the leading edge 5 feet from the blade root, and the blade separated at this point. The blade sustained mechanical damage 13 to 14 feet from the root. The 9- to 13-foot area sustained thermal damage. The outer 1 1/2 feet of the blade, with the end plate attached, separated; this piece on a parking garage rooftop. It was 1,050 feet southwest of the Ch 3 main wreckage site. The outboard leading edge of this piece exhibited in excess of 90 degrees forward bending mechanical damage. The yellow Starflex blade sleeve exhibited the most severe damage of the three sleeves; it exhibited severe broomstraw damage.
Post accident examination of the CH 3 engine revealed substantial impact and post-impact fire damage. The axial compressor ruptured from the gas generator between the intermediate casing and the turbine casing assembly of the gas generator. The axial rotor appeared solidly packed with mud and debris. The axial compressor’s blades exhibited mechanical damage in the form of gouges and scratches. The nose bullet was in place, and appeared undamaged. The compressor case and combustion chamber ruptured. The linking tube appeared flattened. The short shaft separated from the triangular flange at the rear of the turbine reduction gear; it exhibited torsional twist. The short shaft exhibited rotational scarring aft of the forward attach flange. The free turbine blades were in place, and the tips of the leading edges appeared chipped and broken.
The CH 15 helicopter was primarily dark blue along the top of the cabin, tail boom, and tail; the lower part of the cabin was yellow.
Fire consumed most of the main wreckage.
Main Rotor Blades
The leading edge sustained mechanical damage 6 1/2 feet from the root; the blade separated at this point. The blade section aft of the spar was missing from the separation point to 12 feet 8 inches from the root. The leading edge stainless steel strip was also missing from this area. The outboard 2 feet 8 inches of the blade separated, and hit a delivery truck parked at 4041 North Central Avenue. This was 1,040 feet southwest of the Ch 15 main wreckage, and about 180 feet from the separated yellow blade piece from the Ch 3 helicopter. It damaged the hood of the truck, and came to rest about 10 feet away. The end plate was in place.
The leading edge sustained mechanical damage and separated 4 feet 8 inches from the root. The inboard sections of the blade sustained thermal damage. Large sections of blade skin and foam core were missing. Investigators observed leading edge mechanical damage and forward bending from 9 feet 7 inches to 12 feet 10 inches. One piece from this area separated; it was inside the park boundaries about 560 feet south of the main wreckage.
The blade sustained thermal damage from the root out to 8 feet 9 inches. Investigators observed severe mechanical damage and separation from 8 feet 9 inches to 11 feet 9 inches. A section of the leading edge stainless steel strip from this area exhibited blue-gray paint transfer marks. The blade section outboard of 11 feet 9 inches separated. This piece was within the park boundaries, and about 520 feet south of the main wreckage. It did not exhibit any thermal damage; the end plate was in place.
Post accident examination of the CH 15 engine revealed substantial impact and post-crash fire damage. The axial rotor blades appeared bent in a direction opposite the direction of rotation. The nose bullet appeared flattened and smeared in a direction opposite that of rotation. The coupling tube between the engine and main rotor transmission ruptured; it exhibited torsional twist. The linking tube was twisted. The transmission shaft ruptured, and exhibited torsional twist. The short shaft separated from the triangular flange at the rear of the turbine reduction gear, and twisted; however, it remained connected to the triangular flange by a portion of the flexible coupling. The free turbine blades were in place, and appeared undamaged.
Collision Avoidance Systems
The Ch 3 helicopter had a SkyWatch traffic advisory system on board. The system provided audio warning and displayed targets on the helicopter’s Garmin 430 navigation unit. The Ch 3 chief pilot stated that turning the system on was part of the power-up checklist and that the system worked when he flew the helicopter earlier on the day of the accident. The Ch 15 helicopter did not have a traffic advisory and collision avoidance system aboard.
Post Accident Meeting with Phoenix ENG Pilots
The ENG pilots for the Phoenix area met with investigators regarding the midair collision. The group reported that they were a close-nit community, and were in communication daily. All pilots except for Ch 15 operated out of the same hangar; Ch 15 operated out of a nearby hangar.
The pilots indicated that when they receive a call of an event, the helicopter(s) is dispatched. The first pilot to arrive on scene establishes a position. All aircraft are on the same discreet air-to-air frequency (123.025), which law enforcement also monitors. As additional pilots enter the area, the pilots transmit their altitudes and positions to each other. If someone is going to change position, they transmit how and where they are changing. In the case of the accident flight, the other news pilots flying believed that the communication was adequate between the two accident pilots. In addition to the common air-to-air frequency, pilots also maintain radio contact (via separate frequencies) with the tower, their station, and their other crewmembers over an intercom. When pilots are broadcasting live, they advise the other pilots on the local frequency, and depending on the length of the broadcast, will also notify the tower. During the broadcast, the pilot continues to monitor the common frequencies.
Except for Channel 12, all operators use a combination pilot/reporter. Channel 12 uses a photographer/reporter. All helicopters are equipped with a photographer, who operates the camera; the pilot has visual access to a monitor that is mounted near the instrument panel.
During missions involving the police helicopter, the media helicopters remain 500 feet above it. There is constant chatter on the discreet frequency regarding positions. There are times when a pilot will lose sight of another helicopter over the city, because the helicopter blends into the ground clutter making it difficult to discern.
The pilots suggested the following safety improvements:
1. High visibility main rotor and tail rotor blades
2. LED anti-collision strobe lights
3. Improved position lights
4. Quarterly meetings
5. Helicopter Association International (HAI) support
Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR)
FAR 91.111 addresses operating near other aircraft. It states in part that no person may operate an aircraft so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard. FAR 91.113 states in part that vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft.
Advisory Circular (AC) 90-48C Pilots’ Role in Collision Avoidance
According to AC 90-48C, “…the flight rules prescribed in Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) set forth the concept of “See and Avoid.” This concept requires that vigilance shall be maintained at all times, by each person operating an aircraft, regardless of whether the operation is conducted under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) or Visual Flight Rules (VFR).
“Pilots should also keep in mind their responsibility for continuously maintaining a vigilant lookout regardless of the type of aircraft being flown. Remember that most NMAC [mid-air collision] accidents and reported MAC [near mid-air collisions] occur during good VFR weather conditions and during the hours of daylight.”
The AC further states, “pilots should remain constantly alert to all traffic movement within their field of vision as well as periodically scan the entire visual field outside of their aircraft to ensure detection of conflicting traffic. The probability of spotting a potential collision threat increases with the time spent looking outside, but certain techniques may be used to increase the effectiveness of the scan time. The human eyes tend to focus somewhere, even in a featureless sky. In order to be most effective, the pilot should shift glances and refocus at intervals. Pilots should also realize that their eyes may require several seconds to refocus when switching views between items in the cockpit and distance objects. Peripheral vision can be most useful in spotting collision threats from other aircraft. Pilots are reminded of the requirements to move one’s head in order to search around the physical obstructions, such as door and window posts.”News Helicopter Crash occurred July 27, 2007 in Phoenix, AZ