NTSB: Pilot in fatal copter crash was on 1st flight without instructor

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Wayne Lewis, Bruce Allen Erickson

SAN DIEGO — A private pilot from Rancho Santa Fe who was killed along with a passenger in a helicopter crash at McClellan-Palomar Airport last month was on his first flight in the aircraft without a flight instructor present, according to a preliminary federal accident report released Tuesday.

Bruce Erickson, 65, made three aborted attempts to land his Airbus AS350 at the Carlsbad general-aviation facility late on the afternoon of Nov. 18 before its tail rotor hit the runway, causing the copter to lurch into a deadly ground spin that tore it apart and continued for more than five minutes, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Erickson died in the smoldering wreckage of the aircraft along with fellow private flier Wayne Lewis, 60, of Cardiff-by-the-Sea. The entire chaotic but slow-to-develop accident was captured on airport security cameras and several witnesses’ cellphone cameras.

When Erickson made his first attempt that day to land the helicopter — which he had bought about three weeks earlier and in which he had just under nine hours’ flight time — he set it down partially off the helipad he was aiming for, causing it to rock back and forth, dislodging one of the chocks holding the rolling platform in place, the NTSB determined.

The aircraft then began spinning along with the helipad, at which point it lifted off momentarily and came down again, straddling the platform and the runway.

After airport line-crew personnel re-secured the helipad, Erickson tried three more times to set the copter down on it over the next 4 1/2 minutes, according to the NTSB report.

The final time, the aircraft came down partially on the pad, much as it had the first time. Again, it rocked back and forth repeatedly, then spun 180 degrees to the left and tilted backward until its aft tail rotor and vertical- stabilizer assembly struck the ground and separated, the document states.

At that point, the helicopter bounced and rotated another 360 degrees before landing hard on its left side. Once on the ground, the main rotor blades and cabin went into a spin as the engine continued running.

The aircraft continued rotating on the runway while slowly sliding more than 500 feet to the east. The tail boom and horizontal stabilizer then broke apart, and the helicopter rolled onto its side, shedding the main rotor blades.

The engine operated for another 30 seconds while firefighters doused the helicopter. White smoke billowed from the engine’s exhaust after the helicopter came to rest, but there was no indication of fire, according to the NTSB.

Erickson had only owned the helicopter since Oct. 29, though he had flown demonstration and familiarization flights in it since Sept. 20. According to maintenance records, those flights totaled about 8.8 hours, and were all conducted with a certified flying teacher present. He received an additional two hours of flight training Nov. 13, the NTSB report states.

Erickson had previously owned a Bell 407 helicopter, according to friends and flight instructors who had flown with him.


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