Brownout and a continued approach into a questionable landing spot appear to have factored into the March 19 crash of an 11-year-old Airbus Helicopters AS322L1, registered as N950SG and operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) as “Rescue 5,” according to a preliminary NTSB report. Four of the six crew aboard—five deputies and a doctor—were seriously injured.
Shortly before landing at 5:04 p.m. local time, the helicopter became engulfed in dust, contacted a tree, and rolled over on its left side. During the rollover, the pilot-in-command’s lap belt separated from the seat. A preliminary examination of the right pilot’s seat revealed the two lap-belt retention brackets had fractured.
As they neared the landing zone—a highway turnout near Azusa, California—the crew discussed the potential for brownout and tree obstruction but decided to continue the approach, the NTSB said. At five feet agl, the crew chief called out “hold,” the brownout occurred, and the crash sequence began. The helicopter was being operated under Part 91 and was responding to an emergency call.
LASD sheriff Alex Villanueva characterized the accident as a “hard landing and a rollover” in San Gabriel Canyon. “The aircraft landed just a few feet from a 200-foot drop down to Morris Dam below," Villanueva said. "The fact it did not roll over and go all the way down or that there was no fire is nothing short of a miracle."
N950SG is one of three AS322L1s operated by LASD. The department also has a fleet of more than a dozen Airbus AStars.