Accident Eurocopter EC 135P2 N136LN, Tuesday 11 January 2005
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Date:Tuesday 11 January 2005
Type:Silhouette image of generic EC35 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Eurocopter EC 135P2
Owner/operator:Life Net Inc
Registration: N136LN
MSN: 0336
Year of manufacture:2004
Total airframe hrs:166 hours
Engine model:Pratt & Whitney 206B
Fatalities:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 3
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Potomac River, near Oxon Hill, MD -   United States of America
Phase: En route
Departure airport:WHC Heliport, DC (DC08)
Destination airport:Stafford-Stafford Regional Airport, VA (KRMN)
Investigating agency: NTSB
Confidence Rating: Accident investigation report completed and information captured
On January 10, 2005, about 2311 eastern standard time, a Eurocopter Deutschland GmbH EC-135 P2 helicopter, N136LN, operated by LifeNet, Inc., as Life Evac 2, crashed into the Potomac River during low-altitude cruise flight near Oxon Hill, Maryland. The certificated commercial pilot and the flight paramedic were killed, and the flight nurse received serious injuries. The helicopter was destroyed. The positioning flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 and visual flight rules with a company flight plan filed. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident.

The flight originated at the Washington Hospital Center Helipad (DC08), Washington, D.C., about 2304, and was en route to Stafford Regional Airport (RMN), Stafford, Virginia. Global positioning system (GPS) data for the flight [2] showed that the helicopter proceeded toward the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) published helicopter route 1. [3] According to FAA air traffic control (ATC) transcripts, the pilot contacted the local controller at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Washington, D.C., at 2305:47 and stated, "washington tower life evac two . . . sir we're at uh medstar like to go out to uh r f k route one then to route four south." The local controller responded, "life evac two (unintelligible) bravo airspace altimeter three zero two five." The pilot responded, "roger understand cleared as requested."

Examination of FAA ATC radar data showed that the helicopter intercepted a segment of published helicopter route 1, followed it southwest to intercept helicopter route 4, and then flew southbound along the Potomac River toward Woodrow Wilson Bridge. As the helicopter flew over the river toward Woodrow Wilson Bridge, its Mode C transponder reported that its altitude varied from 0 to 100 feet. [4] When the helicopter was about 0.5 nautical mile (nm) north of the bridge, its reported Mode C altitude was 200 feet.

At 2311:20, the pilot reported to the local controller, "life evac two is at the Woodrow Wilson [Bridge]," and the controller responded, "life evac two washington tower traffic on a ten mile final is a seven [sic] an airbus." [5] At 2311:30, the pilot responded, "roger we have him in sight and will be out of his way," and the controller stated, "life evac two maintain visual separation from traffic." ATC radar data showed that, at the time of the pilot's response, the helicopter was about 0.25 nm north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at an altitude of about 200 feet. The pilot made no further radio communications.

According to the flight nurse, who was seated in the helicopter's left front copilot's seat, the pilot maneuvered the helicopter to cross the bridge midspan. The flight nurse stated that the helicopter appeared to be at the same or higher altitude than the lights he saw on some construction cranes near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. He stated that he "called the lights" on both sides of the river to the pilot and that the pilot acknowledged him. According to a Maryland Department of State Police report, the flight nurse also stated that there was a "commercial airplane coming into [DCA], and the pilot . . . made a change in his flightpath and started to descend." [6]

According to ATC radar data, at 2311:39, the helicopter had crossed over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and was just south of the bridge with a ground track of about 180 degrees and an altitude of about 200 feet. Four seconds later, the helicopter had a ground track of about 190 degrees and an altitude of about 100 feet. The helicopter's last recorded position at 2311:48 showed a ground track of about 200 degrees and an altitude of about 0 feet. According to ATC radar data, at the time of the helicopter's last radar return, the northbound Airbus that the local controller previously mentioned was about 2.2 nm south of the helicopter's position at an altitude of about 1,700 feet.

According to the flight nurse, after the helicopter flew over the southern half of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the next thing he recalled was being submerged in water with his seatbelt on and his helmet off. He stated that the helicopter's master caution lights and panel segment lights did not illuminate and that he did not hear any audio alarms sound before the crash. He stated that the pilot did not execute any evasive maneuvers or communicate any difficulties, either verbally or nonverbally.

According to witnesses in vehicles on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the helicopter crossed over the bridge before it descended and then impacted the water. None of the witnesses reported seeing the helicopter impact any objects before its descent. The wreckage was located in the Potomac River about 0.5 nm south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

At 2314:46 (about 3 minutes after the helicopter crashed), the DCA local controller stated, "life evac two frequency change approved." The controller received no reply and made no further attempts to contact the flight. The Maryland State Police later notified the controller of the crash.

Probable Cause: The pilot's failure to identify and arrest the helicopter's descent, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain. Contributing to the accident were the dark night conditions, limited outside visual references, and the lack of an operable radar altimeter in the helicopter.

Accident investigation:
Investigating agency: NTSB
Report number: NYC05MA039
Status: Investigation completed
Duration: 2 years and 11 months
Download report: Final report




Photo: NTSB

Revision history:

10-Oct-2022 18:22 ASN Update Bot Added

Corrections or additions? ... Edit this accident description

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