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UND HELICOPTER DESTROYED ON GROUND VIBRATIONS LEAD TO BLAZE, STUDENT PILOT ESCAPES

A UND student pilot walked away from a helicopter fire Wednesday at a practice training field near 32nd Avenue South, west of Interstate 29.

Bradley Osterman, 22, of Blue Earth, Minn., was on a solo flight and escaped the Schweitzer 300C helicopter as it caught fire. He was treated and released from United Hospital.

Although the helicopter was reduced to rubble, UND Aerospace officials say it did not crash, but was destroyed by rare on ground vibrations known as ground resonance.

"It would be incorrect to describe this incident as a crash. The helicopter was on the ground when the vibrations started that led to the fire," said Rom DePue, UND chief helicopter instructor.

"We believe Brad did all that could possibly be done once the problem occurred. We believe he assessed the situation correctly and took the proper actions."

According to UND Aerospace, the incident is caused by vibrations when a helicopter is near or on the ground that can lead to structural damage and cause fire.

Aerospace spokesman Tim Burke said Osterman just had landed when "a lot of vibration and shaking started, apparently enough that parts broke and fuel came loose and the fire started. He knew that there was a problem and got to before the fire got out of control."

The Federal Aviation Administration has been called in to investigate the wreckage, a normal procedure after an accident. The FAA will determine the fire's cause.

The accident happened around 11:30 a.m. at a landing strip called Sky Ranch Airport, used primarily to do close-to-the-ground helicopter maneuvers away from the Grand Forks airport, according to Burke.

Although fire-trucks were called to the scene most of the fire already was out when crews got there, according to Capt. Peter O'Neill.

When crews tried to return home, one truck broke through the runway Tarmac and had to be helped out by a wrecker.

The Schweitzer 300C was one of five helicopters UND owns. Older models of the Schweitzer 300C are sometimes referred to as Hughes 300s. The accident Wednesday was the second time a Schweitzer 300C was involved in a UND incident since fall.

UND helicopters often are used to train Army ROTC cadets in the Air Battle Captain program, including Osterman, a senior. Osterman is working on his commercial helicopter certificate. He already has private pilot and helicopter licenses, according to Burke.

Wednesday's accident not UND'S first close call

Wednesday's accident at the UND Sky Ranch was not the first close call for a UND helicopter pilot in recent years and has led the ROTC commander on campus to call for safe flight suits.

Army Maj. Michael Hlady said, "He was flying in shorts and a T-shirt. That may be considered a standard student flight uniform, but we're looking at better ways to protect the military's money. One way is fireproof. Nomax suits. They're hot, but it's worth saving a life."

"This is the third time one of our students has had what you could call a close call. We've not had a fire the other two times. We've had instances with leaky fuel tanks involved, though."

Ron DePue, UND chief helicopter instructor, said he knew of only one case in which fuel had leaked from a UND helicopter. It had rolled over last fall. He acknowledged there's always the risk of a spark igniting a fire.

Before Wednesday's accident, UND had ordered flame-retardant flight coveralls for its own helicopter instructors and students who wish to wear them. UND insignia still have to be sewn on, so the suits aren't in use yet, DePue said.

Regular military flight crews wear flame-retardant Nomax suits.


UND HELICOPTERS - AT A GLANCE

Fleet: Five copters at Center for Aerospace Sciences. Three are piston-powered Schweitzers (counting the one that burned Wednesday), two are larger turbine-powered copters, a Hughes 500E and Bell 206-L1 long ranger.

Staff: Eight instructors, full- and part-time.

Students: 12 currently enrolled, in three-year Army ROTC "Air Battle Captain" program, projected to grow to 15 students per class. Nine students from Aramco, a Middle Eastern oil company.

Other customers: U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Border Patrol, Customs Service, training deal pending with FBI.

Previous accidents: August 1990, Hughes 5000 helicopter heavily damages, but no injuries to student pilot and instructor at UND sky Ranch southwest of Grand Forks; October 1992, Schweitzer 300C has airframe damage, no injuries to solo student pilot in mishap north of Grand Forks.

Published on May 6,1993, GRAND FORKS HERALD