Is There No End to NTSB Laziness and Incompetence in Air Crash investigations? While Nazi’s were running amuck in Charlottesville Va. a Virginia State Police Helicopter manned by one of its most experienced pilots, Lt. Jay Cullen, who with Trooper Berke Bates had just chased down the driver of the car that crashed into counter demonstrators, was hovering over the Governor’s motorcade when suddenly the Bell 407 started spinning and tearing itself apart in mid-air. The damage was so severe that it crashed to the earth at over 6000 feet per minute trailing separated parts a number of which have never been found including a main rotor link the loss of which likely would explain the accident.
The NTSB dutifully asked for the “help” of the helicopter manufacturer and the engine manufacturer as well as the Va. State Police and while doing nothing for years refused to allow representatives of the victims to see the wreckage until a lawsuit was filed against it.
The original preliminary report seemed to focus on something called Vortex Ring State as the cause. Vortex Ring State is a phenomenon almost unheard of in the Bell Model 407 which causes the rotor blades to stall because the uprush of air through them from the bottom exceeds their ability to generate enough lift to fly out of the vortex. This is caused by a deliberate descent at high rates or hovering of the helicopter out of ground effect and a lower descent rate which causes stalling of the rotor system at the hub where the blades attach. Vortices that develop can negate lift from the remainder of the blades. The recovery procedure is simple and quick and is a sudden turn out of the vortex or an autorotation which every pilot even with just a few hours in helicopters is taught. This helicopter was just a few thousand feet in a hover so such a descent would have never occurred voluntarily, and the data shows it did not and a Vortex Ring State cannot occur absent that descent. Moreover the rate of descent was so high almost immediately it was evidence of in-flight break-up not Vortex Ring State.
The NTSB stated that it believed that the Vortex Ring State was the culprit and that its review of training records didn’t reveal any training in that phenomenon or recovery from it by the pilot in years. As a pilot for fifty years, I can state categorically that training records do not record all elements of training especially one as bizarre and of no consequence in the Bell 407 as Vortex Ring State.
The NTSB never interviewed a single pilot who was trained by Lt. Jay Cullen because had it done so it would have learned that he regularly taught Vortex Ring State to his students and also the recovery technique and practiced it with them frequently.
Had the NTSB taken the minimal effort that it is required to do by statute to interview those who performed Lt. Cullen’s training it would have known that he was taught Vortex Ring State and recovery regularly and knew all about it.
Had the NTSB been even remotely interested in coming to the correct conclusion as to the cause of the accident, it would have contacted the families of the victims to obtain the names of the students and others who were aware of Lt. Cullen’s masterful skills at flying helicopters.
Had the NTSB not been in the pocket of the helicopter manufacturers of engines and airframes it would have consulted experts in helicopter design and performance and would have known that the flight path of the helicopter was completely inconsistent with that cause.
Indeed, had the NTSB simply spoken with Bell 407 operators, as The Wolk Law Firm has it would have learned that any suggestion that Vortex Ring State had anything to do with this accident was completely unfounded. Instead the NTSB did nothing!
The NTSB, fierce in its loyalty to industry, simply visited another insult to the families of these State Troopers who were doing their job to protect Americans, all Americans. Instead of getting to the bottom of why this accident happened and finding the broken parts, it instead obstructed the families for years from seeing the wreckage so their representatives and experts could find the broken parts and come to the correct conclusion supported by the evidence. It should be ashamed of its laziness and complete failure to comply with the investigative processes mandated by both the NTSB Accident Investigation School and the ICAO Manual of Aircraft Accident Investigation.
The Wolk Law Firm will get to the bottom of the cause of this accident so others who might be victims are protected, and once again embarrass the NTSB by showing in Court that the NTSB got it wrong again.
Arthur Alan Wolk
July 15, 2020