DEER ISLE, Maine — The Scottish billionaire whose helicopter crashed off the coast of Deer Isle last August told federal investigators the crash occurred because of “pilot error.”
The comments from the pilot, Lord Irvine Laidlaw of Scotland, were included in a Factual Report issued last week by the National Transportation Safety Board.
In the report, NTSB investigators reviewed the evidence collected since the helicopter crashed on Aug. 1, 2009, landing in the waters of Swain’s Cove off Little Deer Isle. The helicopter had taken off from the helipad on Laidlaw’s 185-foot luxury yacht Lady Christine.
Laidlaw, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, and three passengers received minor injuries in the crash, which caused extensive damage to the helicopter.
According to the NTSB report, the aircraft was flown to and along a shoreline approximately 400 feet above mean sea level.
“The pilot began maneuvering the helicopter, and it then began losing altitude,” the report said. “Prior to impacting the water, the pilot deployed the emergency skid-mounted floats in order to prevent the helicopter from sinking.”
The report quoted an eye-witness who said the helicopter appeared “… to just hover, pointing roughly east, then suddenly spin and face west … then it tilted and spun around while losing altitude.”
In a written statement, according to the report, the pilot reported he had entered an “out-of-ground effect” hover and initiated a left pedal turn.
“He further stated that the helicopter started turning faster than commanded, that he was unable to regain authority and ‘that the accident was totally pilot error with no mechanical malfunction.”’
Information from an advisory circular issued by the Federal Aviation Administration noted that unanticipated yaw — also referred to as loss of tail rotor effectiveness (LTE) — is a “critical, low-speed aerodynamic flight characteristic.” The circular also noted that LTE is not related to a maintenance malfunction and may occur in varying degrees in all single main rotor helicopters at airspeeds of less than 30 knots, according to the Factual Report.
The helicopter was taken by barge to Belfast Harbor and then moved onto land for examination. A preliminary NTSB reported last August indicated that no mechanical problems were reported before the crash.
The Factual Report included the details of the damage to the helicopter based on an examination by personnel from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Rotocraft Directorate and noted “no evidence of any pre-impact mechanical failures or malfunctions was noted during the examination.”
The Factual Report does not contain an NTSB conclusion on the cause of the crash. Still due is a Probable Cause report which, according to an NTSB spokesman, will include the actual cause of the accident and final conclusions. No date is set for the release of that report.