Midair Collision of Electronic News
On July 27, 2007, about 1246 mountain standard time, two electronic news gathering (ENG) helicopters, N613TV and N215TV, collided in midair while maneuvering in Phoenix, Arizona. The Eurocopter AS350B2 helicopters, from local channels 3 and 15, had been covering a police pursuit. N613TV, the channel 3 helicopter, was operated by KTVK-TV, and N215TV, the channel 15 helicopter, was operated by U.S. Helicopters, Inc., under contract to KNXV-TV.
Each helicopter had a pilot-reporter and a photographer on board. The occupants on board both helicopters were killed, and the helicopters were destroyed by impact forces and postcrash fire. The helicopters were operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. No flight plans had been filed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. Probable cause, both pilots' failure to see and avoid the other helicopter. Contributing to this failure was the pilots' responsibility to perform reporting and visual tracking duties to support their station's ENG operation. Contributing to the accident was the lack of formal procedures for Phoenix-area ENG pilots to follow regarding the conduct of these operations.
History of Flight: On July 27, 2007, about 1246 mountain standard time, two electronic news gathering (ENG) helicopters, N613TV and N215TV, collided in midair while maneuvering in Phoenix, Arizona. The Eurocopter AS350B2 helicopters, from local channels 3 and 15, had been covering a police pursuit. N613TV, the channel 3 helicopter, was operated by KTVK-TV, and N215TV, the channel 15 helicopter, was operated by U.S. Helicopters, Inc., under contract to KNXV-TV.
Each helicopter had a pilot-reporter and a photographer on board. The occupants on board both helicopters were killed, and the helicopters were destroyed by impact forces and postcrash fire. The helicopters were operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91.2 No flight plans had been filed. Visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the time of the accident.
After receiving a report of a police pursuit of a suspect who had reportedly stolen a pickup truck and backed it into a police car after being pulled over, the channel 15 helicopter departed Scottsdale Airport (SDL), Scottsdale, Arizona, about 1222. According to the air traffic control (ATC) transcript, about 1226:08, the channel 15 pilot contacted the air traffic control tower (ATCT) at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Arizona; advised that he had automatic terminal information system (ATIS)3 information “Kilo”; and requested to enter the tower's class B airspace via “Sharp Echo.”4 A controller at the local control north position responded to the channel 15 helicopter pilot, stating “proceed via Sharp Echo as requested, say altitude and destination.” The pilot advised that his helicopter was “going to be heading downtown … eighteen hundred feet [mean sea level (msl)5] … to intercept the police chase.” About 1229:03, the channel 15 pilot advised the controller that his helicopter would be climbing to 2,000 feet to get out of the way of the police helicopter following the pursuit, which was operating at 1,900 feet at the time,6 and the controller acknowledged this transmission.
The channel 3 helicopter departed SDL about 1232 to cover the police pursuit. The ATC transcript indicated that the channel 3 helicopter pilot contacted the ATCT about 1236:41 and informed the controller, about 10 seconds later, “Sharp Echo … going where the other helicopters are over there.” The controller responded, “radar contact, proceed via Sharp Echo as requested.”
In addition to the channel 3 and 15 helicopters and the police helicopter, three other ENG helicopters were operating in the airspace over the police pursuit. Table 1 presents the time that each of these helicopters made initial contact with the controller and the altitudes at which they were operating.
According to informal Phoenix-area procedures, the ENG helicopter pilots were expected to use the same air-to-air frequency to report their position and intentions. The channel 3 and 15 helicopters were equipped with an on-board system that recorded audio and video. The audio recordings indicated that, about 1238:02, the channel 15 pilot stated, “okay, twenty two hundred,” and that, about 1 second later, the channel 3 pilot broadcast that he would be operating at 2,000 feet.
According to the channel 3 and 15 audio recordings, about 1241:02, the channel 15 pilot stated, “I'll just kinda park it right here.” About 1241:18, the channel 3 pilot broadcast, “OK, I'm gonna move.” Between about 1241:22 and about 1241:26, the channel 15 pilot stated, “where's three?,” “like how far?,” and “oh jeez.” The channel 15 pilot then transmitted, “three. I'm right over you. Fifteen's on top of you.” Afterward, the channel 3 pilot questioned which helicopter channel 15 was over, to which the channel 15 pilot responded, “I'm over the top of you.” About 1241:34, the channel 3 pilot indicated that he was operating at 2,000 feet. About 1242:25, the channel 3 pilot stated to the channel 15 pilot, “OK … I got you in sight,” to which the channel 15 pilot responded, about 3 seconds later, “got you as well.” Along with their flying duties, the channel 3 and 15 pilots were responsible for reporting information about the event while airborne. (The channel 3 and 15 photographers were responsible for operating a remotely mounted video camera to show the event as it unfolded.)
The transmissions over the air-to-air frequency about 1242:25 and 1242:28 were the last times that the channel 3 and 15 pilots coordinated their helicopter's position or their intentions with each other. (These transmissions occurred about 4 minutes before the collision.) The rest of the audio recordings comprised narration of the events on the ground or related conversations. The Safety Board's study of the video recordings (see section 1.16.2) showed that, about 1246:05, the suspect stopped the stolen vehicle. At that time, the channel 3 and 15 pilots were broadcasting,7 and, according to estimated helicopter positions based on information from the video recordings, both helicopters were moving. Toward the end of his only report, which started about 1245:43, the channel 3 pilot stated, “looks like he [the suspect] is starting to run … looks like he's gonna try and take another vehicle … looks like they've got him blocked in there but he did get,” and then the report ended suddenly with an unintelligible word. During his live update that started about 1246:03, the channel 15 pilot stated, “he [the suspect] has stopped … now it's a foot chase. Now he's in another vehicle … doors open police … oh jee,” and then the report ended suddenly. The audio recordings indicated that the midair collision occurred about 1246:18.
According to the ATC transcript, about 1246:50, the channel 10 pilot advised the controller, “just had a midair collision over here at the park, two helicopters, two helicopters down.” About 1247:17, the controller asked the pilot if he knew which two helicopters were involved in the collision. The pilot indicated that channel 3 and possibly channel 15 were involved. The controller then tried to contact channel 15 but received no response. About 1248:35, the channel 12 pilot informed the controller that the channel 3 and 15 helicopters had been involved in the collision. The main wreckages from both helicopters were located about 160 feet apart in a park.
The channel 10 ENG pilot indicated that the accident helicopters were positioned apart at a reasonable distance when he first noticed them (about 1 minute before the accident). The pilot witness stated that, after the police helicopter broadcast that a carjacking was going to occur, he noticed that the accident helicopters had moved closer together. He further indicated that they impacted shortly afterward, with the channel 3 helicopter breaking into many pieces and the channel 15 helicopter remaining in the air before diving nose first toward the ground.
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