529 helicopters made by Fort Worth’s Bell Textron are grounded after fatal crash

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The FAA and its counterpart agency in Canada have issued emergency directives requiring 529 Bell helicopters worldwide — including 359 in the United States — to be inspected for faulty rotor pins after a pilot died in a crash while fighting a wildfire in Alberta.

Bell Textron Inc., the helicopter manufacturer, is based in Fort Worth.

The crash of the Bell 212 model aircraft occurred June 28 near Evansburg, Alberta, just west of Edmonton, Canada, as authorities were using aircraft to battle a wildfire that had already burned about 400 acres. Transport Canada found that an outboard main rotor hub strap pin had “sheared off during flight, leading to detachment of the main rotor blade and the main rotor head,” according to Reuters.

The crash killed pilot Heath Coleman, 48, of Prince George, British Columbia.

The directives also include Bell 204 and 205 aircraft.

Bell issued alert service bulletins — or ASBs — directing helicopter operators to inspect the pins and replace them if necessary.

“While we’re not at liberty to discuss details of the Transport Safety Board investigation, all of us at Bell are extremely saddened by this loss,” Bell spokeswoman Blakeley Thress said in a prepared statement. “Our heartfelt thoughts go out to those on board the aircraft as well as their family and loved ones. Even though the investigation is still in progress, to ensure fleet safety, the main rotor strap pins identified in the ASBs should be removed from service before the next flight.”

The directive required operators to inspect the main rotor hubs for faulty pins. Also, pins including a specific serial number prefix were ordered to be replaced immediately.

Those pins keep the helicopter’s rotor head and blade from separating.

Initially, about 400 helicopters were thought to be affected by the grounding. But Bell identified additional helicopters that “might be outfitted with the potentially faulty part,” which expanded the total number of aircraft involved to 529, FAA spokeswoman Crystal Essiaw said in an email.

The repair time for each aircraft involved in the directive is expected to be about 20 hours, officials said.

The pin involved in the Canada crash had accumulated only 20 total hours of time in service before it failed, the FAA said.

An alert service bulletin issued by Bell and cited by the FAA in its directives states that the pins “may not have been manufactured in accordance with the engineering design requirements and may therefore shear as a result of this nonconformance.”

An investigation of the Canada crash is ongoing.

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