NTSB Investigates Helicopter Crash





NTSB Investigates Helicopter Crash

On November 28, 2009, in Indian Key, Florida, the pilot of a Robinson Helicopter R22, he landed in order to examine his helicopter due to the intermittent illumination of a warning light. After landing, he reduced the throttle to "70 percent," exited the helicopter, and began a visual inspection as the helicopter continued to run. During the inspection, the helicopter initiated a takeoff, which the pilot could not arrest from outside the cockpit. The helicopter climbed to approximately 150 feet altitude and flew about 1,800 feet before it descended and collided with water. The pilot was seriously injured during the takeoff, and the helicopter was substantially damaged during collision with the water. The pilot stated that he failed to secure the collective control, and added, "There was nothing wrong with the helicopter." Aircraft: Robinson Helicopter R22, registration: N324GS

Below is a statement from the pilot and police.

Mr. Gerloff was the pilot/owner of the accident helicopter. He was interviewed by telephone, and the following is a summary of the interview. 

Mr. Gerloff stated he was an airline transport pilot with ratings for airplane single engine land and multi-engine, and that he held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for rotorcraft helicopter and helicopter instructor. He reported 23,000 total hours of flight experience, 1,200 hours in helicopters, and 350 hours in the Robinson R22. 

According to Mr. Gerloff, he departed on a pleasure flight and had flown approximately 30 minutes before the "clutch light" illuminated intermittently, so he landed to inspect the helicopter. 

After landing, Mr. Gerloff reduced the throttle to "70 percent," and climbed out to inspect the helicopter. During the inspection, the helicopter initiated a climb, which the pilot attempted to arrest from outside the cockpit. As the helicopter took off, the pilot became briefly entangled before he fell to the ground. 

The helicopter climbed to approximately 150 feet altitude, and continued about 1,800 feet before it collided with the water. The pilot insisted that there was "nothing wrong with the helicopter," and that he had forgotten to completely friction the collective. 

Due to the nature of the pilot's injuries, he was unable to complete the NTSB Form

6120.1, but provided all of the pertinent information over the telephone.

Brian C. Rayner, Senior Air Safety Investigator  


From: Police Officer Statement

Sent: Monday, November 30, 2009 12:06 PM

To: Rayner Brian

Subject: helicopter crash 

As per my conversation with Don Gerloff, the pilot of the crashed helicopter on 11-28-09 at Mariner's Hospital and later at his home: 

Mr. Gerloff explained that he noticed his clutch light blinking which he knew could be a failing belt on the aircraft. He flew onto Indian Key Island clearing and landed in a NE direction. He exited the pilots seat, reducing the aircraft power to 70% but didn't lock the collective. He stated that he recently replaced the main rotors of the craft. He then removed his head gear and put on his ball cap and exited the helicopter. He checked the belts and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. He then moved to check some components in the transmition when the aircraft began to lift. He rushed to the door and held on to the collective and attempted to bring the aircraft under control. He stated that it was too late and that it had gained too much power.  

He subsequently fell from the now hovering helicopter to the ground on to his left shoulder, seriously breaking it. (An inspection of the clearing revealed a portion of the skid burried in dirt and what looks like tail rotar marks also in the dirt. )

Mr. Gerloff said he watched as the helicopter flew up approx. 150 ft and in a ESE direction over a line of trees and down where he lost sight of it. (The helicopter was approx 100 yds off the shore in that direction from the physical evidence found in the clearing). At the hospital, I asked Mr. Gerloff if this would be a mechanical fault or pilot error issue. He quickly stated that this was a pilot error issue since he failed to tighten the collective and that he should have shut down the helicopter before exiting.  

His thinking, he stated, was that it is far easier to see belt problems when they are in motion than when the engine is off. He stated that he purchased the helicopter new from Robinson and was certified by the Robinson Helicopter Co. He also stated that he has been flying aircraft since 1956. Mr Gerloff was very sincere and straight forward in his responses. 

I later went to his house to return his prescription glasses which I found on the ground on Indian Key in an area consistent with where he would have fell and he restated the events again. He added that he has no insurance on the aircraft and, with the instrumentation, the value of the aircraft is approx. $290,000. He keeps it in a water, humidity free container on his property as to avoid corrosion.

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