“It Was Extremely Foggy That Day”
Location: Cosby, TN Accident Number: ERA22FA096
Date & Time: December 29, 2021, 14:25 Local Registration: N544SC
Aircraft: Robinson Helicopter Company R44 II Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal
On December 29, 2021, at 1425 eastern standard time, a Robinson R-44 II, N544SC, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Cosby, Tennessee. The commercial pilot received serious injuries and the passenger was fatally injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.
According to personnel at Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport (GKT), Sevierville, Tennessee, the pilot and passenger traveled from Utah to pick up the helicopter after leasing it from the owner. They arrived at the service center where the helicopter had been stored about 0830 on the day of the accident. The pilot reviewed the lease agreement and conducted a local flight around the GKT airport traffic pattern to assess the helicopter per the lease
According to personnel at the service center, “the weather throughout the day was changing from marginal visual flight rules (VFR) conditions to instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions.” The pilot had many conversations with the service center employees about leaving the area but was cautioned by all of them he spoke with about the dangers of flying in the Smoky Mountains in marginal weather. One person showed him a book in their training room filled with controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents that occurred in the area. The pilot’s response was “those are hills,” and informed him he had 14 years of experience of mountain flying. Additionally, a local helicopter air ambulance pilot that worked on the field met the pilot and asked about his intentions. The pilot stated he planned on departing towards Asheville and follow Interstate 40 through the gorge to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he would visit relatives before heading back west. The other helicopter pilot told him that the mountains east of GKT were 6,000 ft and “there was no way he would make it there.” He also stated there were powerlines above the I-40 gorge.
About 1413, the pilot and passenger departed GKT eastbound. Preliminary Federal Aviation Administration radar data showed the helicopter flying through the valleys in an easterly/southeasterly direction at altitudes between 1,200 ft and 1,750 ft. The data was not continuous along the route. An eyewitness located in a campground near the accident site stated that he first heard the helicopter coming, then witnessed it fly out of the fog. After observing the impact trees, he called 911. Additionally, he stated, “it was extremely foggy that day.”
The helicopter came to rest on a heading of 210°, the cabin impacted the ground and was crushed forward with the tail boom raised behind the cabin. The tail rotor was separated and resting on the right side of the wreckage. Examination of the wreckage revealed all engine structural components, fuselage and flight control surfaces were accounted for at the scene. The main and auxiliary fuel tanks remained attached to the fuselage. The auxiliary fuel tank was examined and appeared to be full. Fuel was collected from both tanks with no contamination noted. Flight control continuity was confirmed from all flight control surfaces to the flight controls in the cockpit.
The engine was examined and remained attached to the airframe with no noticeable damage. The engine compartment was free of oil or fuel residue.
Both main rotor blades remained attached to the main rotor hub, and one blade was bent, but complete. The other blade was bent and impact-separated into three pieces. The majority of the blade was attached to the main rotor hub, with three feet of the tip separated in two pieces; about 2.5 ft of blade material and the weighted tip. Both pieces were located near the main wreckage to the north. The wreckage was retained for further examination.