Pilot Tried To Activate Fire Suppression System in BSO Helicopter, but Engine Temperature Continued To Rise, Report Says

Sept. 11, 2023

An engine fire button illuminated inside the Broward Sheriff’s Fire Rescue helicopter before it crashed on Aug. 28, and the pilot tried to activate its fire suppression system, but one engine’s temperature continued to rise, according to a National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report released Friday.

The report said the pilot heard a “bang” come from the back of the helicopter on its initial climb about 300 feet to 400 feet above ground level, west of Pompano Beach Airpark shortly before 9 a.m. He saw the turbine outlet temperature of the No. 1 engine was rising.

Putting the engine in idle, the pilot told air traffic control they were in an emergency and tried to head back to the airport. He then noticed that the button that indicated the engine was on fire had lit up, according to the report.

“He pressed the button to activate the fire suppression system; however, the (turbine outlet temperature) continued to rise on the No. 1 engine,” the report said. “The pilot subsequently heard a second ‘bang,’ and was unable to control the helicopter. It spun and descended into an apartment building.”

Battalion Chief Terryson Jackson, 50, was trapped and could not escape, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony told reporters. BSO paramedic Mikael “Mike” Chauguaceda, 31, and fire rescue pilot Daron Roche, 37, survived.

The report said the pilot had minor injuries and the other medic suffered serious injuries.

On the way to rescue a patient at the scene of a car crash in North Lauderdale, one of the helicopter’s crewmen said over radio that they began to experience “mechanical issues while in flight,” according to radio communications archived by the website Broadcastify.

A video recorded by one witness showed the helicopter still in flight with smoke trailing behind before it spun out of control, the tail beginning to break off, and crashed into the roof of the apartment building southwest of the Pompano airport.

The report said the helicopter experienced an in-flight fire near the area of the engine exhaust and where the tailboom is attached. The tailboom, the part of the aircraft that connects the tail rotor in the back to the airframe, partly separated, and the helicopter spiraled down in a right spin.

The fire after the helicopter crashed into the roof of the apartment building engulfed the majority of its airframe, the report said, and the tailboom was found about 30 feet away from the main wreckage.

The helicopter’s most recent 100-hour inspection was done on May 23, with an airframe total time of 5,557 hours, according to the report. Its engines had accrued over 5,000 hours, over 2,000 since an overhaul in 2016. The helicopter was operated about 24 hours from its most recent inspection until it crashed. It was maintained based on its manufacturer’s approved inspection program, the report said.

NTSB investigators recovered both engines and their digital control units from the wreckage to download their data and further examine them, the report said.

Jackson’s funeral was held Friday morning in Sunrise. He started his career with Deerfield Beach Fire Rescue in 2004 and joined BSO Fire Rescue when they merged in 2011, the Sheriff’s Office said.

He joined Air Rescue 85 in 2013 as a flight medic and was promoted to captain three years later. He was posthumously promoted to battalion chief.

Lurean Wheaton, originally from South Carolina, was also killed when the helicopter crashed. Wheaton’s niece wrote in a GoFundMe online fundraiser that her aunt was asleep in her apartment when the helicopter crashed.

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Federal Aviation Administration records of the Airbus Helicopter EC 135T-1 show it was manufactured in Germany in 1999 and imported to the U.S. in December that year. The Sheriff’s Office purchased it in 2010.

Tony said at a news conference the day after the crash that he had a “multitude” of talks with the county about replacing the helicopters in recent years, and most recently raised concerns about them in June. The county told the Sun Sentinel that since becoming sheriff, Tony had not summitted any formal requests for funding to replace them.

A 2017 report by Law Enforcement Aviation Consultants that was reviewed by the county commission detailed safety concerns with the Aviation Unit and determined that the unit was at a moderate risk level.

The report detailed staff who were stretched so thin they could barely keep up with day-to-day maintenance, and little to no organization of aircraft parts, a safety concern.

After the report came out, BSO had an inventory of the parts done and implemented Digital Airware, an inventory system, said Veda Coleman-Wright, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office.

“An inventory was conducted after the report was reviewed by BSO,” Coleman-Wright said. “Digital Airware (an aviation records management system) was contracted, and it was implemented in October 2018. All aviation parts were then entered into the Digital Airware system for traceability.”

The helicopter that crashed had undergone overhauls to the engine and transmission recently at the time of the 2017 report, which raised its value and “extended its useful life until 2020.” The ideal time to replace it would have been between 2018 and 2022, according to the report.

A chart included in the report showed that annual maintenance costs for that same helicopter were expected to more than double in 2023 from the year before. “The best time to sell and replace the aircraft is just prior to each anticipated spike in maintenance costs,” the report said.

County officials have decided since the crash to set aside $15 million for a new twin-engine Airbus H145. A long-term plan is in the works to buy others, the South Florida Sun Sentinel previously reported.

The Sheriff’s Office said the day of the crash that their other helicopters would be grounded until they were re-inspected. Tony said on WIOD-610 radio Wednesday morning that they remained grounded.

It could take the NTSB between a year and two years to issue a final report with the probable cause of the crash.

Sun Sentinel staff writer Lisa Huriash contributed to this report.

This is a developing story, so check back for updates. Click here to have breaking news alerts sent directly to your inbox.

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