STP#2 – You mess with the bull, you get the horn
Warning: This SPT, involving a Robinson R44 helicopter (and yes, a bull…) does not have a happy ending for anyone involved.
The Robinson R44, like its smaller brother, the R22, is a very versatile and hardy helicopter.
Problem is, some operators become so comfortable with the four-seaters that they “use them like trucks”, says Robinson Helicopters chief test pilot, Doug Tompkins.
Here’s a case from last year’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) files where the false sense of four-wheel, grounded security went tragically wrong.
Ranch work on Saturday, June 19, 2010 in Unalaska, Alaska was going well. Lonnie was flying the R44 with two ranch hands on board.
According to witness accounts from the two helpers, the group had finished hauling food and supplies to the ranch using the Robinson, then decided to have a bit of fun – flying low along streams looking for salmon.
Along one stream however, they saw a bull “tangled in a lot of plastic wrap from his horns to his back right leg”, according to the statement.
Lonnie decided to help the bull out, landing and letting his helpers out and taking back off to try and herd the animal toward the men so that they could cut it free from the plastic.
“The bull took off once he saw us hop out, so Lonnie tried to push him toward us but it kept fighting him,” said one of the men, adding, “The bull ran about a half a mile before getting tired out. Lonnie kept trying to knock him down, or landing on the plastic so we could tackle him.”
Things went downhill from there.
Lonnie then began using the helicopter’s right skid as a lever to hook the plastic and lift the bull up, presumably to knock it off it’s feet so the guys could work on it.
He succeeding in hooking the plastic, but it broke when he lifted the bull.
“By that time, my friend and I were tired out to wrestle the bull and we kept telling [Lonnie] to quit but he picked it up once more…”, the helper remembered.
This time, the plastic didn’t break, but the helicopter did.
“Once he picked it up it looked fine but after that he went forward and started going right and crashed at the bottom of the hill we were on,” said the man.
Post Mortem: 2 dead – Lonnie and the bull (picture courtesy of NTSB).