Pennsylvania Helicopter Crash: R66 Down on Saturday

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This is a Robinson R44 helicopter, very similar externally to the helicopter which crashed. Image by Helen Krasner

Late at night on Saturday 27th July 2013, a Robinson R66 helicopter crashed in a rugged wooded area of Pennsylvania, killing all five people on board.

At the time of writing few details are known, but let’s take a look at what might have happened.

Pennsylvania Helicopter Crash: Known Details

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that the helicopter took off from Greater Binghamton Airport in New York on Saturday evening.

However, officials there said it had actually originated at a smaller airfield nearby – Tri Cities Airport in Endicott. The helicopter was bound for Jake Arner Memorial Airport in Lehighton, the FAA said.

The pilot contacted a nearby air traffic control tower at around 10:30 p.m saying that he was losing altitude and he would attempt to return to another airfield nearby. Moments later, his helicopter crashed.

At the time of writing the names and ages of those on board have not been released, but they were said to be three men, a woman and a child.

Robinson R66 Crash

The helicopter which crashed was a Robinson R66. This is the first turbine-engined helicopter type designed and built by the Robinson Helicopter Company of Torrance, CA. The R66 was developed a few years ago, and given its first public debut in March 2009.

Robinson was previously known for its relatively inexpensive and popular piston-engined helicopters; the two-seater R22 and four-seater R44. The R66 retains some of the R22 and R44 features such as the teetering rotor head and two-bladed main rotor, but is larger, having room for five people and a large baggage compartment. And of course it is more powerful, being powered by a turbine engine – a Rolls-Royce RR300 turboshaft.

Pennsylvania Crash: What Caused the Accident?

At this early stage, and with so few facts, it is impossible to say what happened.

  • Is the helicopter type likely to have been a factor? There is no reason why this should be the case; the R66 has proven very reliable, and pilots find it easy to fly.
  • What about weather? There were thunderstorms in the area on Saturday night, and indeed rough weather hindered the search for the crashed helicopter. Initially it seems unlikely that poor weather would give a pilot enough warning to contact air traffic control and say he was losing altitude. However, thunderstorms can cause severe downdraughts which a helicopter might find impossible to outfly, so this is a possibility.
  • Of course, the crash could have been due to some kind of mechanical malfunction, although in many cases it would be possible for a pilot to attempt an emergency landing if he was losing power due to an engine failure. The rugged wooded area may have also been a factor.

As Wreckage is Examined, Details Will Emerge

Although the cause of the weekend’s crash is as yet unclear, no doubt things will become clearer when the accident has been further investigated and the helicopter wreckage examined.

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