The Helicopter “Started To Settle” And He “Pulled Max Power To Stop The Settling;”

Location: Knoxville, TN Accident Number: ERA20LA273
Date & Time: 08/03/2020, 1941 EDT Registration: N55GJ
Aircraft: Eurocopter EC130 Injuries: 1 Fatal, 3 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation – Personal

On August 3, 2020, at 1941 eastern daylight time, a Eurocopter EC130-B4 helicopter, N55GJ, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident in Knoxville, Tennessee. One passenger was fatally injured, and the pilot and two additional passengers were not injured.

The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. After refueling the helicopter, the pilot and his passengers departed McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS), Knoxville, Tennessee, about 1826 for a flight in the local area. About 1940 the pilot made a right circling approach over the Tennessee River toward a landing site near the river’s edge on his property. He reported that he, “was descending with low power and a 25° angle of descent; ever slowing to come to a hover at low speed over the water.” He stated that he added power to stop the descent and was planning to hover to the landing site at a height about 75 feet above the water. He stated that when he added power, the helicopter “started to settle” and he “pulled max power to stop the settling;” however, the helicopter continued to descend into the water. A passenger stated that when the helicopter descended toward the water in a level attitude, the left “skid hit and then rotor hit” and the helicopter was “torqued into the water on the left side.” The pilot and two of the passengers were able to egress the helicopter before it sank.

Examination of the accident site by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed that the helicopter came to rest on the bottom of the Tennessee River about 435 ft and 149° from the landing site on the pilot’s property. The helicopter’s fenestron was recovered floating nearby.

The helicopter was recovered from the river mostly intact. Examination of the wreckage revealed a large hole in the left side windshield; the left door window broken out; damage to all rotor blades consistent with water impact; and two of the four suspension bars fractured midspan. The tailboom remained attached to the fuselage, and the fenestron separated from the tailboom just aft of the ring frame.

The helicopter was retained for further examination.