NTSB releases preliminary report for New Mexico helicopter crash

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its preliminary report on the crash of a Bell UH-1H helicopter near Raton, New Mexico, on Jan. 17.

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The crash, which occurred at around 6 p.m. local time, killed five people: pilot Jamie Coleman “J.C.” Dodd, co-pilot Paul Cobb, Charles Ryland Burnett, and Roy and Heather Bennett. There was one survivor, Andra Cobb, who according to news reports was the daughter of Paul Cobb and in a long-term relationship with Burnett.

The flight departed the Raton Municipal Airport around 5:50 p.m. local time on Jan. 17, destined for a personal function in Folsom, New Mexico, approximately 30 nautical miles to the east. According to the NTSB report, the end of local civil twilight was 5:35 p.m., and local moonset was at 5:54 p.m., with the moon in a waxing crescent phase with zero percent of its visible disk illuminated.

Andra Cobb told the NTSB that the helicopter was in level flight, then there was “a big bang as the helicopter hit the ground.” After ground contact, the helicopter rolled forward and came to a stop upside down. The NTSB report described Andra Cobb hanging upside down from her seat belt with jet fuel pouring on her, before she released the belt and evacuated the helicopter. The helicopter was on fire as Cobb called 9-1-1 and waited for emergency responders.

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According to the report, the main wreckage of the helicopter came to rest on a flat mesa at the top of rising terrain a little over 10 nautical miles from the Raton airport.

The initial observed point of terrain contact was a parallel pair of ground scars, consistent with the width of skids, which led directly to the main wreckage, the report states.

The full report is available on the NTSB website.

7 thoughts on “NTSB releases preliminary report for New Mexico helicopter crash

  1. It is interesting to note that the NTSB preliminary report made no mention that this was a Restricted certificated aircraft and should not have had any people on board that were not essential crewmembers flying for purposes allowed under their authorized uses ( which do not include carrying passengers ). They did feel it was necessary to explain a bunch of things that are esoteric such as the fact that the -703 engine has a 5 stage axial compressor. I realize this is a preliminary accident report and not a review of why these people should never have been carried in the first place. When the final determination is published I hope it is made clear that in addition to what ever mechanical failure occurred and why, the extensive loss of passenger life could have been avoided if the operational rules had been followed by the owner operator.

    1. Looks like CFIT due to darkness, as per the report. The helicopter was operating part 91-personal and I think that it can be used for transporting passengers, just not paying ones.

      1. Restricted category applies to all parts of the CFR’s, part 91 is not exempt simply because the passengers were not paying for the flight.

  2. You are incorrect about that. Note number 18 in the TCDS for that aircraft says the following:
    “NOTE 18. No person may be carried in this helicopter during flight unless that person is essential to the purpose of the flight.”

    That is from TCDS H13WE rev 13 and it covers that particuar SN aircraft. Paying or non paying….no passengers.

  3. Question from a newbie –
    If the helicopter had been registered for passenger use, would it be required (or assumed) to have had a GPWS ? tx.

  4. Ground proximity warning systems for helicopters (HTAWS) are only required in the US for part 135 air ambulance helicopters. You must understand that this particular aircraft was built for the military and had no type certificate. It was issued a restricted certificate after it was surplussed by the government and it is limited to those functions detailed by the FAA such as agricultural, external load and fire fighting. The only other option for an aircraft like this is to possibly be issued an experimental certificate but that is harder to do and you must have a very specific reason to have an application for that accepted. With an experimental cert. it could carry passengers only under very limited circumstances such as at an exhibition, airshow or for dual instruction. In this particular case it seems that nobody should have been on the aircraft except for the pilot. Operating limitations are issued by the FAA in both the type certificate data sheet and for each individual aircraft and those limitations may vary but usually not by much. You should read the CFR at this link. https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/91.313

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