By Dominik Lobkowicz
This OH-58A+ helicopter crashed in the woods near Route 218 in Whitefield on May 30, 2014. (D. Lobkowicz photo, LCN file)
An accident brief published by the National Transportation Safety Board says the probable cause of a helicopter crash in Whitefield last May was a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation, and the pilot’s actions were contributing factors.
Michael J. Conley, then 50, was the pilot of an OH-58A+ helicopter owned by Maine Helicopters Inc. which crashed in the woods about one nautical mile away from the company’s location in Whitefield on May 30, 2014, according to NTSB documentation and staff.
Conley departed the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton at about 1:50 p.m. that afternoon.
Twenty minutes into the flight the helicopter’s master caution warning light flickered, Conley told a Federal Aviation Administration investigator, according to the NTSB factual report.
The light flickered again five minutes later, again five minutes after that, and 30 seconds later the engine stopped producing power, Conley entered autorotation, and the helicopter came to rest in the woods, according to the report.
Conley was unable to decipher which caution panel segment light was associated with the brief illumination of the master caution warning light before the crash, according to the report.
Conley received minor injuries in the crash, but walked out of the woods under his own power.
Conley had 1,475 hours of flight time in an OH-58A+, and 3,962 total hours in rotary wing aircraft, according to the factual report.
According to the NTSB’s brief on the accident dated May 13, “A detailed examination of the fuel system and associated warnings, airframe, engine controls, and fluid and pneumatic lines and a test run of the engine revealed no preimpact mechanical anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.”
About 10-11 gallons of fuel, or 65 pounds, were recovered from the helicopter, and 1.3 gallons of the fuel were unusable, according to the brief.
The helicopter’s low fuel caution light was set to illuminate when there were between 65 and 98 pounds of fuel remaining, but the caution panel segment lights were set to “dim, which would have made it difficult or impossible to read in daylight conditions,” according to the brief.
“However,” the brief states, “the manual advised that that illumination of the low fuel caution light does not mean that a fixed time remains and that the remaining fuel may not be available unless the helicopter remains in level or coordinated flight.”
The probable cause of the crash was found to be a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation, but Conley’s failure to land as soon as possible after the first illumination of the master caution warning light and failure to ensure the proper setting of the caution lights were contributing factors, according to the brief.
Conley was an employee of Maine Helicopters at the time of the crash, but is no longer employed there, company owner Greg Farris told The Lincoln County News last month.
Farris estimated the crash caused between $150,000 and $200,000 worth of damage to the aircraft.
Efforts to reach Conley for comment were unsuccessful.