The NTSB has released its final report on a tragic 2010 helicopter accident in Cave Creek, Arizona, about 30 miles north of Phoenix, in which five people died. The NTSB’s investigation found that the helicopter owner’s five-year-old daughter might have contributed to the cause of the crash by accidentally stepping on the collective.
The investigation found that the highly experienced EC 135 pilot was seated in the right cockpit seat and the owner, who was not rated in the helicopter but enjoyed flying it with his pilot by his side, was seated in the left cockpit seat. The NTSB noted that the pilot had explained to a friend that the owner would often “dominate cockpit duties.” A local ranch foreman witnessed the daughter as she boarded the helicopter from the left side and sat down on her father’s lap.
The NTSB found that the probable cause of the rapid descent and subsequent crash of the Eurocopter EC 135 was “the sudden and inadvertent lowering of the collective to near the lower stop,” and subsequent control inputs that appeared to have been made to regain control of the helicopter. The sudden control movements caused structural damage to the helicopter prior to the impact, which resulted in the loss of control and subsequent crash.
After conducting a biomechanical study, the NTSB found that it was unlikely that the child could have moved to the rear seat during the flight and that “it is highly likely that the child inadvertently stepped on the collective with her left foot and displaced it to the full down position.”
The report by no means placed blame on the five-year-old for the accident, but stated that “absence of proper cockpit discipline from the pilot” by allowing the owner to dominate his pilot-in-command duties contributed to the accident.