2 Pilots Seriously Injured in Hawaii

On December 16, 2009, about 1329 Hawaiian standard time, an Aerospatiale AS350BA helicopter, N87EW, operated by Sunshine Helicopters, Inc., Kahului, Maui, Hawaii, experienced a total loss of engine power in cruise flight on the island of Maui. In an autorotative descent, the pilot made a forced landing about 1.3 miles southeast of the Hana (uncontrolled) airport. The helicopter impacted hard on uneven, downsloping, terrain and was destroyed. The commercial certificated pilot-in-command and the check pilot, who held an airline transport pilot certificate, were seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a company flight plan was filed. The instructional flight was performed under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, and it originated from the Kahului Airport about 1257.

The check pilot was the operator’s assigned Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) principal operations inspector (POI). The purpose of the flight was for the POI to administer a 14 CFR Part 135.293 competency check to the pilot. Satisfactory completion of the check ride, and other requirements, would enable the pilot to continue operating on demand commercial air tours for his employer, Sunshine Helicopters, holder of an air carrier operating certificate.

According to Sunshine’s director of operations (DO), at the time of the flight the accident pilot was current in the operation of the helicopter. Several hours prior to the accident flight, the pilot had flown an air taxi flight in N87EW, and no maintenance squawks were noted. The helicopter operated normally, and it was dispatched for the pilot’s use later in the day for his FAA check ride.

Sunshine’s DO further indicated that during the check ride it was a customary procedure to simulate an engine failure. He opined that during the simulation the engine lost power. The power loss event appeared to have coincided with commencement of the simulation and the POI’s retardation of the helicopter’s fuel flow control (throttle).

The FAA coordinator reported to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator that performance of a simulated loss of engine power during this type of check ride was an authorized routine procedure used in evaluating the competency of airmen.

The helicopter had been converted from its original manufactured AS350B type design. In part, the conversion involved installation of a Honeywell LTS101-600A-3A engine, modification of its electrical system and engine performance gauges, installation of a tail boom strake, and installation of modified tail rotor blades. The principal changes, commonly referred to as an “FX” conversion, altered the helicopter’s operating parameters as indicated by supplements included in the helicopter’s flight manual.

Safety Board Examination

The Safety Board investigation team is continuing its examination of selected helicopter components to ascertain their functionality. Also, a review is in progress regarding (1) pertinent FAA policies and procedures related to performance of power loss simulations during check rides, (2) requirements for familiarity with modified aircraft, (3) conformance with specified engine operational requirements, and (4) the POI’s familiarity with the AS350BA’s FX conversion in concert with Sunshine’s approved training program.