Aircraft Went Down In The Atlantic Ocean Near Big Grand Cay, Abaco, Bahamas

The NTSB has released a preliminary report from an accident involving an Agusta AW139 which went down July 4 in the Atlantic Ocean near Big Grand Cay, Abaco, Bahamas. The commercial pilot, airline transport pilot rated copilot, and five passengers were fatally injured. The helicopter, which was owned and operated by Challenger Management LLC, was being operated as a personal flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for a flight from Walker’s Cay Airport (MYAW), Walker’s Cay, Bahamas, to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (KFLL), Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The flight departed from a concrete pad at Big Grand Cay, which was located about 5 nautical miles (nm) southeast from MYAW, about 1 minute prior to the accident. 

The purpose of the accident flight was to transport two of the passengers to FLL for medical treatment.

The helicopter departed from Palm Beach International Airport (PBI), West Palm Beach, Florida, about 0057, and a witness reported that it landed on the concrete pad at Big Grand Cay between 0130 and 0145. After landing, the helicopter remained on the ground with the engines operating, while the passengers boarded. During the subsequent takeoff to the east, the witness reported that the helicopter climbed to about 30 to 40 ft and accelerated while in a nose-down attitude. He did not notice anything unusual while he observed the helicopter depart.

Another witness, who was located about 1.6 nm southwest of the accident site reported seeing the helicopter lift off and climb to between 40 and 50 ft above ground level; then shortly thereafter, he noted blue and white lights spinning to the left at a rate of about 1 to 2 seconds between rotations while descending. He estimated that the helicopter rotated to the left three to four times. He then heard a “whoosh whoosh whoosh” sound, and lost sight of the helicopter, which was followed by the sound of an impact. The witness reported what he had heard to the “caregiver” of Big Grand Cay. The witness went out on his boat about 0205 and used spotlights to search the area where he thought the helicopter had crashed but was unable to locate it.

The FAA issued an alert notice for the overdue flight about 1521. The helicopter was subsequently located by local residents sometime between 1600 and 1700, in about 16 ft of water about 1.2 nm north-northeast of the departure point.

The helicopter was found inverted and the tailboom was separated from the aft fuselage and was recovered in multiple pieces. All five main rotor blades were separated but recovered. The tail rotor assembly, which was also separated was subsequently recovered. All four tail rotor blades were separated, and one tail rotor blade was not recovered. The recovered wreckage was retained for further examination, to include examination of the airframe, engines, flight controls, seats and restraints.

The helicopter was equipped with a multi-purpose flight recorder, an enhanced ground proximity warning system and several additional components capable of storing non-volatile memory, which were retained for evaluation and data download.

The accident investigation was initially under the jurisdiction of the Air Accident Investigation Department (AAID) of the Bahamas. On July 6, 2019, in accordance with Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the AAID requested delegation of the accident investigation to the NTSB, which the NTSB accepted on July 8, 2019.

(Source: NTSB. Image from file. Not accident aircraft)

FMI: Report