27 August 1990: Four Bell JetRanger helicopters operated by Omniflight Helicopters Inc., arrived at a golf course near Elkhorn, Wisconsin, to pick up various musical artists after a concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theater and to return them to Chicago. They departed at 0040 hours, CDT.
The number three helicopter, Bell JetRanger III (Model 206B-3) serial number 2338, civil registration N16933, was piloted by Jeffrey William Brown of East Chicago, Indiana.
A last minute addition to the passenger complement was electric blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. Another passenger, Vaughan’s brother, Jimmie Vaughan, switched places with him and boarded a different aircraft.
A first-quarter Moon rose at 12:12 a.m. CST. It was very dark, with thick, patchy fog. The temperature/dew point spread was such that the pilots had to continually wipe heavy condensation from the windshields. Another of the Omniflight pilots later said that the stars were visible when looking up, but that horizontal visibility was variable, with a maximum of about one mile.
Brown, who was not familiar with the area, took off and after about 300 yards, his helicopter banked sharply to the southeast and disappeared into the fog.
The JetRanger impacted a 150-foot hill (45 meters), 0.6 miles away (1 kilometer). It was completely destroyed. All on board were killed. In addition to Brown and Vaughan, the others were Bobby Brooks, Nigel Browne and Colin Smythe, members of Eric Clapton’s tour.
Although the weather was such that the pilot could have reasonably expected to encounter instrument meteorological conditions, Brown did not have an Instrument-Helicopter rating and the Bell 206-series helicopters were not certified for instrument flight.
Below is the accident summary from the National Transportation Safety Board:
NTSB Identification: CHI90MA244 .
The docket is stored on NTSB microfiche number 43569. Nonscheduled 14 CFR Accident occurred Monday, August 27, 1990 in ELKHORN, WI Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/11/1992 Aircraft: BELL 206B, registration: N16933 Injuries: 5 Fatal.
NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
FOUR HELICOPTERS WERE BEING USED AT NIGHT TO TRANSPORT A CONCERT GROUP FROM A GOLF COURSE AREA NEAR ELKHORN, WI, TO CHICAGO, IL. AS THE THIRD HELICOPTER (N16933) WAS DEPARTING, IT REMAINED AT A LOWER ALTITUDE THAN THE OTHERS, AND THE PILOT TURNED SOUTHEASTERLY TOWARD RISING TERRAIN. SUBSEQUENTLY, THE HELICOPTER CRASHED ON HILLY TERRAIN ABOUT 3/5 MI FROM THE TAKEOFF POINT. ELEVATION OF THE CRASH SITE WAS ABOUT 100 FT ABOVE THE GOLF COURSE AND 50 FT BELOW THE SUMMIT OF THE HILL. NO PREIMPACT PART FAILURE OR MALFUNCTION WAS FOUND DURING THE INVESTIGATION. PILOTS OF THE OTHER HELICOPTERS REPORTED VFR FLIGHT CONDITIONS WITH SOME FOG. A GROUND WITNESS NEAR THE CRASH SITE REPORTED HAZE AND GROUND FOG OF VARYING INTENSITY WITH PATCHES OF LOW CLOUDS, BUT SAID STARS COULD BE SEEN THROUGH THE FOG.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
IMPROPER PLANNING/DECISION BY THE PILOT, AND HIS FAILURE TO ATTAIN ADEQUATE ALTITUDE BEFORE FLYING OVER RISING TERRAIN AT NIGHT. FACTORS RELATED TO THE ACCIDENT WERE: DARKNESS, FOG, HAZE, RISING TERRAIN, AND THE LACK OF VISUAL CUES THAT WERE AVAILABLE TO THE PILOT.
In February 1984, I first met Jerome Maitland (“Jerry”) Boyle. I was a newly-hired commercial helicopter pilot for a Southern California-based Part 135 Air Taxi Commercial Operator. The company specialized in supporting range operations in the offshore Pacific Missile Test Center, headquartered at NAS Point Mugu (NTD). After an initial checkout in one of the company’s helicopters, the chief pilot told me, “Just follow Jerry. He’ll show you what to do.”
Jerry was a big man with reddish hair and a moustache. He was sort of hunched over from years of sitting at the controls of a helicopter. He often wore a black, U.S. Army-issued, V-neck wool sweater over a white shirt. I never saw him without a cup of coffee and a smoldering cigarette, even when flying. This had left him with a raspy voice and a chronic cough. Jerry was always cheerful, and had a great sense of humor, and he told great stories. He wore an Omega Speedmaster Professional watch and drove a well-used white 1976 Corvette Stingray.
I did as instructed and followed Jerry’s Bell 206L LongRanger everywhere with my own helicopter as he showed me the ropes of dealing with Range Operations (“Plead Control”), transporting personnel and equipment to the numerous sites throughout the Range and California’s offshore Channel Islands. Most of our time was spent supporting the Surface Targets Directorate with their remotely-controlled World War II-era destroyers which were used as targets for anti-ship missiles. Jerry also taught me how to locate and recover the Northrop BQM-74 Chukar target drones that were used for aerial targets. After plucking them from the ocean, we returned the drones to NTD for servicing.
We flew other government contracts as well. We carried National Park Service employees and their guests out to the Channel Islands, and Federal government inspectors to oil drilling and production platforms on the outer continental shelf. We flew construction crews and materials to new radar and telemetry sites being built out on the range. We flew surveyors and fought fires all over the Western states and Alaska, the occasional medevac from remote locations, flew government SWAT teams on patrols of nuclear sites, carried sling loads and long-line, and all of the other things that are part of the life of a commercial helicopter pilot.
As the years passed, I gained more experience and became the company’s chief flight instructor, FAA-designated check airman and eventually, chief pilot. Jerry began looking to me for information and advice, and we always “crammed” together before a required check flight. Our relative positions within the company changed but our friendship didn’t. Even after he had retired and I worked elsewhere, we stayed in touch and spoke by telephone often.
Jerome Maitland Boyle was born in Los Angeles, California, 28 May 1938, the second son of Walter David Boyle, a civil engineer, and his wife, Marguerite E. Boyle. The family lived in a small rented home on N. Kenmore Avenue in the East Hollywood area of L.A. When Jerry was just three years old his father died and his mother moved the family moved to the San Fernando Valley, a few miles to the north.
By 1961, Jerry was a licensed private pilot and skydiver. He had moved to the beautiful Ojai Valley and was employed as a police officer for the City of San Buenaventura, California (or, more commonly, simply Ventura). He enjoyed the work and was a member of the California State Police Pistol Association. He won both the state and national championships. In 1965, he married Cathie L. Birch. They had two sons.
From 1961 to 1968, Jerry Boyle served in the U.S. Army Reserve, where he was trained as a combat medic. In 1969, Boyle was sworn into the United States Army as a warrant officer candidate and was sent for primary helicopter flight training at Fort Wolters, Texas, and then Fort Rucker, Alabama, where he underwent advanced training in the TH-13 Sioux (Bell Model 47) and learned to fly the legendary UH-1 Iroquois. (One of Jerry’s instructors at Fort Rucker, CW2 Barrie Turner, would later be a co-worker of ours.) After graduating, Warrant Officer Boyle was next assigned to Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, Georgia, to be trained on the new Bell AH-1G Cobra attack helicopter.
By 1970, Jerry was in Vietnam where he was assigned to Troop A (“Apache troop”), 1st Squadron, 9th Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. For the next few months he flew as the co-pilot/gunner in the Cobra’s forward cockpit. He learned to fly combat missions under the more experienced Cobra pilots. After six months Boyle was qualified as an aircraft commander. He named his personal Cobra Cathie’s Clown, after a popular ’60s song by the Everly Brothers, but in “honor” of his estranged and soon-to-be ex-wife, Cathie. He flew with the radio call-sign, “Apache Two-Four.” Jerry also flew with Troop B, with the call sign, “Sabre Two four.”
Jerry and Cathie divorced in 1973. He then met his “soul mate,” Andrea J. Balch. They were married in 1974. They continued to live in the Ojai Valley until Jerry retired from aviation.
Jerry Boyle told his own story of his first months of combat in Vietnam and Cambodia in a Random House book, Apache Sunrise, which was published in 1994. He had intended to follow with Apache Noon and Apache Sunset. But that was not to be.
Jerry retired to a cabin north of Kalispell, Montana, located on the bank of a stream, with a small dock and a black Labrador Retriever, where he could fish whenever he wanted. One of his closest friends from the Vietnam War flew a medical helicopter from the nearby regional hospital. But Jerry became ill, and he died at Whitefish, Montana, 24 November 2011.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jerome Maitland Boyle, United States Army, was awarded the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, five Bronze Stars, two Army Commendation Medals (Valor) and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. Combat pilot and aircraft commander, Bell AH-1G Cobra; commercial pilot, Bell Model 206B-3 JetRanger, Bell 206L and L-1 LongRanger, Hughes Model 369 (“500”) helicopters; California state and National police pistol champion; fisherman, story teller, author, Apache Sunrise. My friend.