Vintage Military Helicopter Crashes In West Virginia; Six Dead

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An ex-military Bell UH-1B “Huey” helicopter crashed yesterday evening (June 22) by a rural roadside near its home base at Logan County Airport (code 6L4) in West Virginia. All six on board were killed. Few details are available, but local law enforcement reported that the cockpit and cabin were consumed by post-crash fire.

According to FAA records, the helicopter, N98F, is registered to a local cardiologist. It was operated by maintenance provider Marpat Aviation based at Logan County Airport. The veteran helicopter was participating in this week’s 7th Annual Huey Reunion, and the Marpat website offered 30-minute rides, including the chance to operate the controls, for fuel donations. Mike Holbrook, owner of Marpat, declined to comment to AVweb, referring questions to the NTSB. A woman who witnessed the crash told television reporters she saw what she presumed to be fuel streaming from the cabin and tried to approach the burning helicopter to help, but the intense heat forced her to retreat.

According to the Marpat website description, the UH-1B was likely the oldest Huey still flying, the 488th of more than 10,000 built. It was manufactured in 1962, even before the original military designation changed from HU-1 (thus, the “Huey” nickname) to UH-1 when the 932nd was delivered from the factory.

N89F, then bearing the military serial number 62-01968, served in Vinh Long, Vietnam, with the 114th Assault Helicopter Company, the “Knights of the Sky,” and bore the nose-art “Miss Fit.” Its wartime duties included gunship, troop carrier and medevac service. After being returned to the U.S. in 1971, it subsequently served in the National Guard before working as an agricultural aircraft, firefighter and before the cameras of several feature films, including “Die Hard,” “The Rock” and “Broken Arrow.”

The FAA and NTSB are currently investigating the accident.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. “Operate the controls”! What idiot would allow a non pilot or kid to operate the controls on a Helicopter while on a sight seeing flight with others onboard? Remember the Russian Airliner that had the pilots kid fly, they all died from 35000 feet. So a heli low to the ground no thanks.

    • Why do you think they are allowing non-pilots to fly it. Remember all the Vietnam vets out there who flew these things? My take is that they were allowing older vets a chance to remember just like they do in fixed wing A/C. No one said anything about non-pilots.

    • Put it this way – pilot in the left seat & a passenger in the right.
      If the passenger was allowed to manipulate the controls & a correction was immediately needed, HOW MUCH OF A SECOND of time would it take for the pilot to correct a problem?
      Seems like folks who make comments about non pilots flying, have NO idea of the response time that I had just pointed out.
      Again – LESS THAN A SECOND!

  2. I can’t see how letting a non pilot non commercially rated person operate the controls with passengers aboard is a good idea. I’m not even sure it would be legal. I guess it could be considered instruction and the PIC was the helicopter pilot the whole time. Even so, not wise.

    Helicopters barely fly as it is. Much less so with a passenger driving.

  3. The previous comments assume facts not in evidence. The report simply says that the option to manipulate the controls was available; there is nothing that even speculates (except the previous posters) that it was a factor in the crash. Until there is a finding of probable cause, any speculation assuming that is not worth the electrons wasted.

    In an airframe with that history, a mechanical issue has a far higher probability of being the culprit, but at this point no one knows. So all we can do is mourn the loss of the victims and an historical artifact.

    • I agree with the airframe history evaluation. The untimely crash of a B-17 Nine-0-Nine was attributed to many factors; two engines losing power with one shut down and extending landing gear too soon lowering approach speed for landing.

      A Vietnam era Huey helicopter would require tighter maintenance with higher inspection rates for aging aircraft no different from WWII era aircraft. As usual, I’ll wait for the final NTSB report.

  4. I’m not helicoper rated, nor a CFI. My only ‘stick time’ in a helicopter was a one-hour lesson. Frankly, I have more time flying in helicopters up to jump altitude. As such I don’t feel qualified to comment on allowing passengers to “operate the controls.”

    So surely “Roger t.” and “William .” must be eminently qualifiied to make such bold statements. Helicopter-rated, CFIs even? Certainly they are prescient – able to discern from a brief article with no on-site inspection that allowing such behavior was a proximate cause of the accident. After all, why zero in on that one point when commenting about the crash of the helicopter?

    As always, I await the NTSB report months (or years from now, grrr) before clicking my tongue in disapproval, if even then.

  5. The general media immediately leaped on the “non-pilots flying a helicopter” aspect without the slightest evidence it had anything to do with the crash, but with them that sort of thing is 100% expected. One would think on AV Web…never mind.

  6. I’m a commercial helicopter pilot, and I would not feel comfortable flying an aircraft for the first time with paying passengers onboard… and I doubt their FAA waiver permitted this kind of flight.