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Nearly Retired

The Agusta Accident in NYC

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And yet another helicopter accident occured in New York City which has everyone playing Expert Crash Investigator On The Internet. So many posters on the Original Forum are demonstrating what utter toolbags they can be. So many. I read the posts and shake my head at how these supposedly intelligent people (helicopter pilots) can be so stupid.

 

I grew up in New York City. It is where I learned to fly. Yes, I literally learned to fly in and out of the four heliports on Manhattan Island. There used to be four; now there's only three. One was virtually under the 59th Street (Queensboro) Bridge. My first flying jobs were in NYC. Initially I was a tour/charter pilot for a company whose NYC base was at the E34th Street Heliport, and then I did traffic reporting in an Enstrom 280C out of a heliport on the Hackensack River in New Jersey - talk about a horrible place to get in and out of when it was foggy! I did all of these things in weather in which some of you would never even consider going flying.

 

Okay, so those are my qualifications.

 

I do not know what caused the A109 to crash into that building. However I feel safe to say that it was *not* IIMC. It may have been a personal, physiological problem, or it may have been a mechanical. But it was not a weather-related accident.

 

New York City is perhaps the easiest place on the face of the planet to fly around when the weather is really crappy. You just stay over the rivers. I've gone "between the stanchions" of the three bridges on Manhattan's lower east side (Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg) and I've gone *under* the Verrazano Narrows Bridge trying to get back to our company's home base on Long Island when I couldn't take the northern route across LaGuardia or split the airspace and go between LGA and JFK along the Long Island Expressway. (As an aside, the company I worked for - Island Helicopters - used to carry the man, Daniele Bodini when he was just a charter customer before he bought the Agusta. I've flown him.)

 

I've done tours when you could only see the base of the WTC towers and a couple of times have had to say, "...over there is the base of the Empire State Building." I've flown in icing so bad that I'd end up flying by looking out my door window, and my foot slipped right off the step when I landed. In the 206, the heat from its engine keeps the MR and TR blades ice-free, although the rotor head and push-pull tubes can collect quite a bit of ice in a relatively short time. I've flown tours in winds so high that it would put my LongRanger right up on its side as I passed downwind of the skyscrapers in lower Manhattan on my way out to the Statue of Liberty. You quickly learned to ride it out and not try to counter the roll with opposite cyclic.

 

I don't tell you these things to convince you of what a great pilot I am/was. It was just the job back then. Our 135 minimums were 300 and a half. And that's "pretty crappy" weather in anyone's book. I was never the only one flying. There were no IFR helicopters back then - other than a 212 owned by Mack Truck. Nobody went IIMC back then. We were all smart enough to stay low and slow and not punch-in.

 

I left NYC in the late 1980's. I've heard from current NYC pilots that not much has changed. They still sometimes fly in pretty crappy weather. If NYC pilots only flew when the weather was nice and pretty and "airplane-VFR," no flying would ever get done.

 

To get from E34th Street to Linden Airport in New Jersey, all the Agusta pilot would've had to do was take off and follow the East River southbound. I would bet real money that he had done exactly that many, many times. It was not his first rodeo. The hard part would be getting through or around Newark's surface area.

 

A person on the ground captured part of the Agusta's flight on her camera. The weather looks bad but not horrible. The video shows the ship descending out of the clouds at a steep angle and high airspeed. It seems to recover from the dive and then climbs right back up into the clouds whereupon we lose sight of it. The ship ended up on the roof of a building in the middle of midtown Manhattan. I guarantee that the pilot was not attempting to land on said building. I would bet money that the ship "landed" on the building either inverted or nearly so.

 

The experts on the "bad forum" can go around all day long claiming that this accident was "simply" a case of IIMC It was not. This pilot did not accidentally enter the clouds and then lose control of his helicopter. Something else happened. What? We do not know right now. And, depending on how much of the wreckage (and of him) they recover, we may never know. It's an unfortunate accident, and it's mucho tragic that it had to happen in NYC, which doesn't need any *more* bad publicity of helicopters at the moment. Speculate all you want, but I'm not ready to assign this one to "pilot-error" just yet.

Edited by Nearly Retired
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Ok Bob, its not IIMC, its mechanical/medical and he did not try to land on that building, so then,...

 

Why the dive, then why the climb back in?

 

,...and why not just go for the water?

 

I hate speculating, but given how thorough the fire was, speculation may be all we'll ever have.

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I have to agree with butters. He even made radio transmissions back with E34 that said he may have to turn around because of weather. IMO he was disoriented, hence the dive and subsequent recovery. He may have climbed to try and get above it. Possibly following the 4 C's we are taught in aviation when it comes to IMC or lost procedures. I seriously doubt any experienced pilot would climb during a mechanical issue. His only psychological issue would of been why he kept flying when he didn't feel comfortable.

 

he may have been trying to use the building as a reference point to keep level while in the thick of it but still lost orientation and crashed.

 

No one can say for sure but its natural for a human and us pilots to want to know the truth.

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It's very strange. If you read THIS story, you'll see a video clip - one of two evidently shot by a Wendy Slater. The video shows the Agusta hovering over the East River at 200 feet or so. It's in a fairly stable hover...in perfect control. It stays there for a bit, and then gradually transitions into forward flight. For some reason it climbs into the overcast! This is unexplainable: No VFR-only pilot would do such a thing if he still had ground contact. And it's silly and erroneous to think that the pilot was in IMC during Wendy's first video. Watch for yourself and see.

 

Uninformed people keep talking about how bad the weather in NYC was that day. Really? If you watch Wendy's videos, you can see that visibility on the river was actually quite "good," even if the ceiling was pretty broken and low. The pilot *could* have simply stayed low and slowly picked his way down the river...like hundreds of us have done over the years.

 

This was no ordinary case of "Stupid pilot took off in horrible weather, climbed up and got into IIMC, crashed and got what he deserved." Somebody in the Comments section of some internet news article mentioned that the pilot was having a seizure. I don't know where that info came from...Nor have I heard that the pilot communicated with E34 that he was coming back in. Because if the latter was the case, all he would've had to do was put the pitch down and land.

 

Again, no self-respecting, non-Instrument-rated pilot is going to deliberately climb up into an overcast when he could follow rivers to his destination. Pilots without Instrument Ratings are not cavalier about such things. And I can say this with some authority as a pilot with 11,000+ hours and...wait for it...NO INSTRUMENT RATING! If you've never flown in NYC, you'd never know how easy it is to get around - in good weather or bad.

 

Over the years, we've heard stories about pilots suffering medical issues in flight. I'm kind of leaning toward that possibility as the cause of this accident.

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