I have always felt that pilots can learn a lot by reading and reviewing past accidents. One type of accident that seems to happen over and over is running a helicopter out of fuel. I just don’t understand this, especially in an aircraft that can just about land anywhere. The following accident happened almost nine years ago.
At night on October 15, 2002 a Schweizer 269C experienced an engine failure due to fuel exhaustion and was substantially damaged during the ensuing hard landing. The CFI pilot was providing night VFR cross-country instruction to a student. They had discussed the low fuel situation, but elected not to refuel because neither had a credit card. On the last leg of their flight the low fuel light illuminated followed a few minutes later by complete loss of engine power. During the autorotation, the helicopter struck trees and the tail boom separated from the airframe. Miraculously, neither pilot was injured.
Then, just a few weeks ago a Eurocopter AS-350-B2 helicopter sustained substantial damage when it impacted terrain during an autorotation following a loss of power. The pilot, flight nurse, flight paramedic and patient received fatal injuries.
The purpose of the flight was an inter-hospital transport. At 1730, the pilot reported to the communication center that he departed the helicopter’s base with two hours of fuel and 3 persons onboard and was en route to the hospital. Approximately 28 minutes later the helicopter landed at the hospital helipad to pick up the patient. While the helicopter was shut down on the helipad, the pilot contacted the company’s communication center by telephone and notified them that about half way through the flight he realized that he did not have as much fuel onboard as he originally thought. After a discussion about possible fueling and re-routing options, the pilot elected to stop en route for fuel and then proceed to the hospital helipad to drop off the patient.
Shortly after departing from the hospital helipad the pilot contacted the company’s communication center and reported that he had 45 minutes of fuel and 4 persons onboard. Thirty minutes later the helicopter crashed in a farm field about 1.7 nm miles north-northeast of the intended fuel stop. There was no post impact fire.
These kinds of accidents are very frustrating because they are so preventable.