Chopper pilot ignores tainted fuel, takes off, crashes

It’s not going to take the National Transportation Safety Board long to figure out why a helicopter crashed in Osage, Minnesota, last month while it was spraying for mosquitoes.

The NTSB has released a preliminary report on the crash which occurred when pilot Scott Churchill made an emergency landing when the helicopter’s engine sputtered. When it hit the ground, it rolled over.

According to the NTSB, Churchill checked the fuel three times, found water in the tank all three times, and took off anyway.

While conducting a spray operation at 15 feet above the ground, the helicopter’s engine sputtered so the pilot pulled up on the collective. The engine momentarily stopped sputtering but then began to run rough and continued to sputter.

The pilot made a forced landing and the helicopter impacted the ground and rolled on its side, which resulted in substantial damage to the fuselage, tail boom, and rotor blades. A postaccident examination of the helicopter revealed water contamination in the gascolator and the fuel tank. Also, water contamination was found in the company’s bulk fuel supply tank.

The pilot noted that he checked the helicopter’s fuel tank three times and the samples contained water every time. The pilot discarded the samples and continued to operate with the contaminated fuel.

Churchill, of Le Sueur, Minnesota, is the owner of the company whose helicopter crashed into a Maplewood home last June while spraying for mosquitoes, killing the pilot. The NTSB was unable to determine the cause of that crash, however.