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1977 Gary Powers helicopter crash

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Passengers  1
Injuries (non-fatal)  0
Aircraft type  Bell 206
Summary  Pilot error
Total fatalities  2 (all)
Passenger count  1
Crew  1
Survivors  0
Date  1 August 1977
Operator  NBC
Survivor  0
1977 Gary Powers helicopter crash httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu
Site  Encino, Los Angeles, United States
Similar  1977 Benghazi Libyan Ar, Linjeflyg Flight 618, United Airlines Flight 2860, SA de Transport Aérien Fli, Aeroflot Flight 331

On August 1, 1977 a Bell 206 news helicopter piloted by Francis Gary Powers crashed into a field near Encino, Los Angeles killing Powers and the aircraft's only passenger, cameraman George Spears. The cause of the crash was determined to be fuel exhaustion.



The Bell 206 JetRanger was operating under Federal Aviation Regulation Part 91 on a noncommercial flight and departed Bob Hope Airport in Burbank on the morning of August 1, 1977 to provide aerial coverage and record video after a wildfire in Santa Barbara, California 86 nautical miles to the west. At approximately 12:25 pm Powers contacted KNBC and stated he had completed gathering footage, was returning to Burbank and he believed he had enough fuel for the return trip. A few minutes later Powers radioed the control tower at Van Nuys Airport requesting clearance to land there due to low fuel. Permission was granted but the aircraft failed to arrive.

The helicopter was now at 800 feet above ground level (agl) and almost out of fuel. Realizing he would not make the airport, Powers began searching for a spot to land in the heavily built up area. At 12:35 Powers pointed the aircraft towards the Sepulveda Dam Recreational Area and prepared to auto-rotate down to an open area. The Bell 206 has superior autorotation characteristics, but as he descended Powers saw a group of teenagers playing on a baseball diamond and made an abrupt maneuver to avoid them. Powers' last radio transmission was "TV four just lost -”. At approximately 50 feet agl the tail-rotor fell off and Powers was ejected from the helicopter. At 12:36 the aircraft impacted the ground about 50 yards from where the boys were playing. The machine gouged a 20 foot long trench in the earth and flipped upside-down. Powers and Spears both received fatal injuries. Nobody on the ground was reported hurt.


The helicopter involved in the accident was a Bell 206B JetRanger serial number 433 built in 1969.

It was powered by a single Allison model 250-C20B turboshaft engine, rated at 420 shaft horsepower. The aircraft Certificate Issue Date was 09/19/1974 and it had been modified with the addition of an externally mounted 360-degree video camera and video recording equipment. Registered as N4TV, it was commonly referred to as the "Telecopter".

Crew and passengers

The helicopter pilot was 47 year old Francis Gary Powers who began flying the JetRanger when he joined KNBC in November 1976. Best known for piloting an ill-fated reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union in 1960, Powers held a valid commercial pilots license and was instrument rated with 7193 total flight hours including 381 in the Bell 206.

The only passenger was 43 year old cameraman George Spears who had been employed by KNBC for 14 months.

Aftermath and investigation

The half-million dollar Telecopter was completely destroyed during the crash. When firefighters arrived they removed the helicopter's smoking battery from the fuselage for safety. The wreckage was moved to the Wayne Airframe Aviation Company in Van Nuys. Found inside the helicopter was the video recorder and four video cassettes. The aircraft was not equipped with a flight data recorder (FDR) or a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and investigators had hoped the tapes might have clues to the reason for the crash but apparently the recorder was not operating at the time of the incident.

During the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation, no evidence of failure or malfunction of the aircraft or any of its systems prior to the crash was found. Further examination of the engine found approximately five fluid ounces of jet fuel in the entire fuel system and that the engine had flamed out due to fuel starvation. The final report from the NTSB lists the probable causes as improper in-flight decisions and mismanagement of fuel by the pilot in command which led to fuel exhaustion. Also listed was improper operation of flight controls during the power-off autorotation.


1977 Gary Powers helicopter crash Wikipedia

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