By Andrew Douglas
SOMERVILLE, TN -(WMC-TV) – The probable cause of the medical helicopter crash that killed all three people on board near Somerville, Tenn., last week may take up to a year to determine.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary report on the October 22 crash.
According to the report, 18 minutes into the flight, the helicopter was climbing in altitude and veered to the right off course before crashing. The last data point registered by satellite tracking equipment indicates the chopper was flying at “98 knots ground speed and at an altitude of 1,560 feet above mean sea level.”
Two additional aircraft were dispatched when Hospital Wing pilot Charles Smith did not radio in his normal 10 minute position report.
One of the pilots sent to check on the chopper saw a fire in the rural area near Somerville. First responders confirmed that the helicopter did crash.
Smith, along with Ped-Flite registered nurse Carrie Barlow, and Pedi-Flite respiratory therapist Denise Adams were killed in the crash.
According to NTSB, the majority of the helicopter was destroyed upon impact and burned in a post-crash fire.
Gary Robb wrote a book on helicopter crashes and has more than 30 years litigating them. He offered his insight based on the preliminary report. His best educated guess is that there was a mechanical issue involved.
“It does appear that the pilot was positioning the aircraft for an emergency landing called an auto rotation,” said Robb. “There was some loss of power either due to engine failure, fuel there could be a problem with what’s called a fuel control unit, power turbine governor, any number of systems or components.”
Robb says weather was not an issue and Charles Smith had a vast amount of experience as a pilot. That leaves something mechanical board as the most likely culprit.
“Why would the pilot do that? And the reason is to position for an auto rotation which is an emergency procedure designed to land in a relatively open area using only the inertial rotational forces of the main rotator blade,” explained Robb.
The report issued by NTSB is preliminary and could change as the investigation continues.
To read the entire preliminary report, click here: http://ftpcontent4.worldnow.com/wmctv/NTSB-prelim.pdf