Videos from mobile phones and airport security cameras show an AS350 B3e pilot making three failed attempts to land on a movable helipad Nov. 18 before crashing on the fourth try, killing himself and a passenger, according to a new NTSB report. The preliminary report, which is subject to change, cites video recordings from the mobile devices of witnesses at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, California, as well as from security cameras there. The crash occurred at about 4:24 p.m. local time Nov. 18 and involved the Airbus Helicopters aircraft with registration N711BE.
The safety board said the videos show the helicopter in the first attempt landing short of the helipad, with the center of its skids contacting the front of the helipad. The AStar then tilted aft, striking its tailskid on the ground, and began left-to-right oscillations. The helipad broke free of its rear left wheel chock and pivoted to the right. Both the helicopter and helipad spun together briefly before separating; the helicopter climbed rapidly then landed on the tarmac after about 50 sec. After a ground crew secured the helipad and installed three wheel chocks, the pilot made three more attempts. Each time, the aircraft approached “within 5 to 20 ft of the helipad,” according to the NTSB.
A witness about 130 ft away from the helipad recorded the final attempt on his phone. “He had observed the other landing attempts and was concerned that the helicopter may crash,” the NTSB said, so he “positioned himself behind a car at the corner of a hangar.” This video shows the helicopter again landing short of the helipad, similar to the first attempt. It tilted aft, causing two more tail strikes. The “helicopter pitched violently forward” and went out of view of this witness’s camera. Security cameras show the AS350 spun 180 deg and pitched up 45 deg. Its tail rotor and vertical stabilizer struck the ground and separated from the aircraft, which bounced and spun another 360 deg and landed hard on its left side. With its engine running and the main rotor turning, the aircraft spun for another 5 min and 10 sec and slid about 530 ft along the ramp. The tail boom then separated and the helicopter rolled over, with the engine running for another 30 sec and emitting white smoke.
Fire crews doused the aircraft, but an official familiar with the investigation said there was no post-crash fire. The pilot, who others identified as 65-year-old Bruce Allen Erickson, president and CEO of the American Bank of Montana, had about 11 hr of flight time in the AS350 B3e, all with a certificated flight instructor. He had purchased the AStar Oct. 29. The NTSB reported friends and flight instructors said Erickson had previously owned a Bell Helicopter 407, and the accident flight was the first he had flown in the AS350 series without a professional pilot onboard.