Perhaps you remember the first time you lowered the canopy on the T-37 in the middle of that hot July sun in Columbus, Miss. Or preflighting a Piper Warrior on the Vero Beach ramp at high noon in August. Or maybe you were learning to hover in that “green house” canopy of a TH-55 at Fort Rucker, Ala., or an R-22 in mid-summer outside Sao Paulo — either way, your Nomex flight suit or cotton shirt was completely drenched in sweat. Back then we were young, eager and not about to show others that the heat was a bother.
As pilots we don't seem to think much about the brakes until we really need them, and then our interest intensifies in direct proportion to the proximity of the runway end and the speed at which it is approaching.
Pitch-black darkness, gusting winds and a deep mountain canyon with vertical granite walls climbing up to 12,000 ft. do not make for a helicopter friendly environment. To make matters worse, the winter's worst blizzard was inbound just miles away.
Earlier on that January afternoon a backcountry skier had been trapped and injured by an avalanche in very steep terrain. Rescuers had spent hours getting to the downed skier and then maneuvering in steep, snow-covered terrain to get him to a Forest Service parking lot 3 mi. distant and 4,000 ft. down.
The flight was to be a simple aerial photography mission over a large expansion construction project at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). The Bell 206B maneuvered over the work area at about 400 ft. AGL. However, soon after slowing to a hover, the helicopter did a rapid 180-deg. right turn around the mast, stopped momentarily, then continued its clockwise spin.
According to one witness, the helicopter continued in a descending turn until striking the ground violently, killing both the pilot and photographer.
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