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NTSB Releases Report on Tour Copter Crash
Las Vegas Review-Journal


The lone survivor of a Grand Canyon tour helicopter crash that killed six people told paramedics the aircraft's engine was not running as it plummeted to the ground, according to a federal report released Tuesday.

"It got quiet and fell from the sky," Chana Daskal of New York told paramedics caring for her at the crash site 60 miles east of Las Vegas, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report.

However, mechanical evidence discovered by the NTSB suggests there was no engine failure when the American Eurocopter AS350-B2 crashed Aug. 10 into a rugged escarpment near Meadview, Ariz.

Jeff Rich, the NTSB investigator in charge of probing the Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters accident, said Tuesday that he discounts Daskal's recall of the accident that killed her husband, four other New York tourists and the pilot, Kevin Innocenti of Henderson.

Rich, who authored the NTSB report, said investigators gathered evidence that indicates the engine likely was still running when the aircraft crashed.

"We have to bear in mind she was given 20 milligrams of morphine before she said that. She was also in a lot of pain," Rich said.

He said investigators plan detailed examinations of the helicopter's engine, which was found intact, and the frame, which was badly damaged.

Other evidence disclosed in the NTSB's report, which was posted on the agency's Web site Tuesday morning, suggests the aircraft fell vertically with little forward motion before it struck an isolated hillside covered in dirt, rocks, sparse brush and Joshua trees.

Daskal, a 25-year-old mother of two, remained in critical condition Tuesday at University Medical Center with a broken spine and serious burns over 80 percent of her body.

Paramedics questioned her after arriving at the crash site about 3,700 feet up the 5,600-foot Grand Wash Cliffs to find flaming wreckage and six dead bodies.

The report says a paramedic asked Daskal whether the aircraft's engine was running before it struck the ground. "No, not at the end. ... It got quiet,"
Daskal replied.

Federal investigators have not been able to further question the survivor about what happened because she has been under heavy sedation since last week, when a skin-graft operation left her in severe pain.

Rich declined to elaborate Tuesday on what impact Daskal's remarks will have on the investigation into the cause of the deadliest Grand Canyon aerial tour accident since 1995.

"We have a process of inquiry that's very methodical," Rich said. "Her statement doesn't change the line of inquiry we're pursuing."

The NTSB's brief report, the first of three on the accident expected to be filed during the next year, also disputes a finding by the Mohave County Sheriff's Office that the aircraft scraped a rock outcropping before it crashed.

All the ground scars identified by NTSB investigators were near the wreckage and within the approximate diameter of the helicopter's main rotor, according to the report. The NTSB maintains the helicopter's rotor caused any scarring around the wreckage site.

"Surveys of all possible approach paths to the accident site were conducted and no ground contact evidence was found," the report says.

William Waldock, a professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., said this and other NTSB findings indicate the aircraft went almost straight down with little horizontal movement.

"Obviously if there was engine failure, the question becomes, `Why couldn't the pilot autorotate the aircraft?" Waldock said.

Autorotation is a basic maneuver helicopter pilots use to safely guide an aircraft to an emergency landing during an engine failure.

"It's kind of like gliding an airplane to a landing without the engine running, only you're doing it vertically," Waldock said. "You're using the blades on the aircraft to brake the aircraft. You're allowing the rotor blades to take up a lot of the energy of downward motion so the aircraft doesn't just fall out of the sky."

Helicopter flight instructors typically introduce students to autorotation by their fifth or sixth hour of instruction, said Stephan Knoedler, a flight instructor at Helicopter Adventures in Titusville, Fla., one of the nation's top helicopter aviation schools.

"Students will typically be able to do one by themselves before their 20th hour in a helicopter," Knoedler said.

A pilot must be able to perform an autorotation before he is allowed to take a solo flight, according to federal flight rules.

Innocenti, the Papillon pilot killed in the crash, had no accidents, incidents or sanctions on his record, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

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