The AW169 at King Power Stadium minutes before the crash.
Authorities have zeroed in on the tail rotor system as a possible cause of the Leonardo AW169 helicopter crash outside King Power Stadium that killed the owner of Leicester City football club and four other people in October, according to a special bulletin published by the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
The bulletin was issued to provide the public with preliminary information gathered at the crash site, flight recorder data, eyewitness accounts and other sources.
“The cause of the apparent loss of yaw control has yet to be determined. Investigation of the tail rotor control system is being carried out as a priority,” the AAIB bulletin said.
The 2016 AW169 crashed just after takeoff from the stadium at 7:37 p.m. local time Oct. 27 with a pilot and four passengers on board. All five were killed when the aircraft spun to the ground, rolled over and burst into flames.
In the aftermath of the crash, helicopter manufacturer Leonardo will inspect all fleets of AW169 and AW189 helicopters to ensure that tail rotor servo-actuators are correctly installed, a decision that resulted from an emergency airworthiness directive issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency Nov. 7.
The 53-year-old pilot held an airline transport license and had flown 40 hours in the 90 days prior to the crash. He already had flown the aircraft from Fairoaks Airport in Surrey to London Heliport in Battersea and from there to the King Power Stadium in Leicester.
After the game, the aircraft took off from where it landed, about 1 nm away from the stadium, approached it from the south and landed on the pitch around 6:45 p.m. local time. Once the pilot and four passengers were aboard, the aircraft started up at 7:34 p.m. and lifted off three minutes later.
The helicopter lifted off on a “rearward flight path while maintaining a northerly heading,” which was a planned procedure, according to the bulletin.
“The climb then paused. Heading changes consistent with the direction of pedal movements were recorded initially, then the helicopter entered an increasing right yaw contrary to the pilot’s left pedal command,” the bulletin says. “The helicopter reached a radio height3 of approximately 430 ft before descending with a high rotation rate.”
The helicopter hit upright on a “stepped concrete surface” with landing gear retracted, rolled over to the left and was “rapidly engulfed in an intense post-impact fire,” according to the AAIB. “Stadium staff and emergency services were quickly at the scene but were not able to gain access to the helicopter because of the intensity of the fire.”
Much of the aircraft’s composite fuselage was significantly damaged or completely destroyed by the fire. What was left was taken to an AAIB facility in Hampshire, where a forensic investigation is ongoing.