By Robin Fitzgerald
The few details released from Monday’s fatal helicopter crash in the De Soto National Forest indicate a mechanical problem was likely to blame, an aviation attorney and author said.
Gary C. Robb, a Kansas City attorney and author of “Helicopter Crash Litigation,” said he has studied aviation crashes for 34 years, and based this opinion on a federal safety board’s investigative techniques.
Monday’s crash killed the pilot and a U.S. Forest Service worker and injured a forest worker who also was a passenger.
Robb said full details of the 2:57 p.m. crash in north Harrison County could take a year to be made public. That’s about how long it takes for the National Transportation Safety Board to complete a probable-cause report, which gives details of an aviation crash investigation.
“After doing this for 34 years, I understand the investigative process and feel like I have an idea of what may have happened,” Robb said.
Robb said the NTSB and the teams it assembles look at three primary factors: “The environment, the man and the machine.”
He said a review of an environment includes the weather, terrain, smog, thunderstorms and utility wires.
Weather did not appear to be a factor and none of the other variables has been mentioned, Robb said.
The men were monitoring a controlled burn, which means pilots must be careful to avoid updrafts and contact with flames or smoke, he said.
“These are unknowns,” Robb said, “but I would presume they (the Forest Service) would have an experienced pilot who would know to maintain a safe distance from the actual burn.”
“I guarantee you the NTSB will run a toxicological report on the blood of the pilot to determine if any alcohol or improper drugs were in his system and will check out his records thoroughly,” he said.
“They will do a top-to-bottom full analysis of that wreckage to determine whether there was any sort of in-flight mechanical malfunction contributing to the crash.”
Investigators will look at the engine, fuel-control valve, control systems, the main rotor blades, the hydraulic system and all linkages and rod connections, Robb said.
At least one witness reported the helicopters sounded like it was in some sort of distress.
“Assuming they hired a qualified pilot and the crash was in broad daylight at a time with no thunderstorms, it seems to implicate some sort of mechanical malfunction as the cause of this tragic crash,” Robb said.
“When you do something long enough, you seem to get a feel for what happened.”