A Robinson R44 helicopter was undergoing repairs on the day that it crash-landed on a Hillsborough County road, killing one and injuring another on the ground, according to a new report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The helicopter had repeatedly lost total engine power during a flight on March 31, prompting its owner to contact the Federal Aviation Administration, the preliminary report states.
The FAA turned the aircraft over to Florida Suncoast Helicopters for repairs.
On the morning of April 4, an FAA inspector observed as mechanics worked on the helicopter, cleaning the fuel system and looking for contamination.
A company pilot then started the engine and tried to engage the flight control lever, at which point the engine again lost total power.
After speaking with the helicopter manufacturer, mechanics decided to completely replace the fuel injection unit.
The FAA inspector then left and asked to be contacted after repairs were complete.
Mechanics finished the repair and then the pilot, a 39-year-old man from Bradenton, test ran the engine and allowed the helicopter to hover for several minutes.
There were no problems, so the pilot and a mechanic, a 21-year-old man from Pinellas Park, boarded the aircraft and took off with the intention of transporting it to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
As they flew over Hillsborough County, the engine failed again.
Around 2:30 p.m., the pilot performed a hard landing without engine power on 50th Street near the Palm River Road intersection in Palm River-Clair Mel, an unincorporated area near Tampa.
The helicopter touched down on the roadway and then slid sideways, where the rotor blades made contact with a telephone pole, slicing it in half.
A two-and-a-half foot fragment of rotor blade broke off of the aircraft and went flying. It smashed through a pickup truck’s windshield, killing 72-year-old passenger Deodat Persaud Gangapersaud of Plant City. His 35-year-old son was driving and sustained minor injuries.
The pilot and copilot were uninjured in the crash, although the helicopter took heavy damage.
Investigators examined the engine and found that the induction air inlet duct was partially collapsed. No other problems were noted. The duct was retained for further examination, but the report did not say whether it was thought to be the cause of the engine failure.
The helicopter, a Robinson R44 II, was manufactured in 2019 and had less than 82 hours of total flight time, according to NTSB.
The model has a higher rate of deadly crashes per flying hour than any other American helicopter, according to a 2018 Los Angeles Times investigation.
On April 19, Robinson Helicopter Company issued a service bulletin advising owners of the Robinson R44 to replace a hose that could become kinked, causing a loss of engine oil. The company advised owners to check the condition of the hose prior to further flight and replace it within the next five flight hours.
A final report on the April 4 accident is forthcoming.