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NTSB releases report on helicopter crash

CARLSBAD — A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board detailed a fatal helicopter crash at the McClellan-Palomar Airport on Nov. 18.

The incident killed two men — private pilot Bruce Erickson, 65, of Rancho Santa Fe, and passenger Wayne Lewis, 60, of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, also a private pilot.

The NTSB report, meanwhile, used video footage from the airport and cellphone cameras from witnesses.

The Airbus helicopter attempted to land on a moveable helipad on the west side of the runway. Upon its return, they approached the helipad from the east into the sun at 4:24 p.m. after departing at 2:11 p.m. in clear skies.

According to the report, the helicopter’s first attempt landed short of the pad with the center of its skids making contact with the pad’s front edge. The aircraft “immediately” rocked back and its tailskid struck the ground.

The initial impact caused a series of oscillations breaking the pad free, while the helicopter spun with the pad for the first quarter of the turn, the report said.

For two-and-a-half minutes, the crew stabilized the pad installing “chocks” on three of the four wheels.

Erickson made three more attempts coming within five to 20 feet of the pad.

A witness captured the final attempt on video from about 130 feet south of the helipad, positioning himself behind a car after observing other such attempts and concerned of a crash, the report stated.

On the final landing attempt, “similar to the first landing attempt,” the helicopter rocked onto its tailskid twice. The final impact with the ground caused the aircraft to pitch forward, spinning 180 degrees to the left after reaching a 45-degree angle with its nose up.

The aft tail rotor and vertical stabilizer struck the ground and separated as the helicopter bounced and rotated another 360 degrees before crashing on its left side.

On the ground, the main rotor blades and cabin continued to spin with the engine running. The spinning lasted approximately 5 minutes, 10 seconds, sliding slowly for 530 feet east along the ramp.

The tail boom and horizontal stabilizer separated as the helicopter rolled onto its side losing its main rotor blades. The engine continued running for another 30 seconds as fire crews doused the helicopter, although there was no indication of a fire.

Both men were dead by the time crews reached the cabin.

As for Erickson, the report stated it was his first flight in the AS350 series without a professional pilot. He bought the helicopter on Oct. 29, but had flown demonstration and familiarization flights in it since Sept. 20.

Lewis was also a private-rated pilot, but not a professional.

According to media reports, Erickson was chairman and CEO of American Bank in Montana, while Lewis was a realtor.