Thursday, January 01, 2015

Bell 206-L4, N57AW, Cochise County Sheriff's Department: Accident occurred December 31, 2014 in Benson, Arizona

NTSB Identification: WPR15FA072
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, December 31, 2014 in Benson, AZ
Aircraft: BELL 206, registration: N57AW
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On December 31, 2014, at 1710 mountain standard time, a Bell 206 L4, N57AW, collided with terrain 7 miles west of Benson, Arizona. The commercial pilot and pilot rated mechanic were fatally injured, and the helicopter was destroyed. The helicopter was registered to N57AW LLC, and operated by Airwest Helicopters as 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 positioning flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated on a company visual flight rules flight plan. The flight originated form Glendale, Arizona, at 1550, and was destined for Sierra Vista, Arizona.

The operator reported that the helicopter had not arrived at its destination and that the Sky Connect Tracking System indicated that the helicopter was at a stationary location between Tucson and Benson. The Cochise County Sheriff located the helicopter wreckage about 2030 at the location the Sky Connect system was reporting. The helicopter was fragmented into multiple pieces along a 174-foot-long debris path. Witnesses living in the local area reported hearing a low flying helicopter around the time of the accident, and that the visibility at ground level was very limited, with low clouds and fog.

COCHISE COUNTY- Federal investigators are pouring over the wreckage from a deadly crash involving a Cochise County Sheriff's helicopter.

It was moved from the scene today and taken to Phoenix, so they can figure out what went wrong.

A pilot and mechanic were killed in the crash. The pilot was former Glendale police officer Jeff Steele, he retired in 2011. The mechanic was Marc Hansen, who was 59 years old.

Twisted metal is what's left of the six passenger, aircraft that once weighed 2,500 lbs.

The National Transportation Safety Board Investigators say the crash was unsurvivable.

When it fell from the sky, it broke into three pieces, leaving a debris field that spread 180 feet across the desert.

This is the second time Air Transport, an aircraft recovery moving and storage company, made a trip to Cochise County .

Last September, Reed and Randall Jarman were in Tombstone when "Cochise Air" made a hard landing due to losing a rear rotor.

No one was hurt in that crash.

Van McKinney is with the NSTB. He investigated the Santa Monica airport crash in 2013 that killed four people. He's also looking into this crash.

He told News 4 Tucson their focus here is on the maintenance of the aircraft and weather conditions on New Year's Eve.

NTSB officials say the preliminary report will be ready in five days. The final report will be completed in a year.

Story and Video:

Jeff Steele was killed in a helicopter crash in southern Arizona on New Year's Eve. He was a retired Glendale police officer. 
Courtesy Glendale Police Department

A retired Glendale police officer and a mechanic for a Glendale aviation company were killed Wednesday afternoon in a helicopter crash near Benson in southern Arizona, Cochise County Sheriff's Office officials said Thursday.

The men were flying the Cochise Air chopper, used by the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, to Sierra Vista from Phoenix, where it had received routine maintenance.

Jeff Steele, a 25-year veteran of the Glendale Police Department and an employee of Airwest Helicopters LLC, was identified as the pilot killed in the crash. The 48-year-old man had retired from Glendale police in 2011 after a distinguished career.

The second victim was identified as Marc Hansen, 59, a certified mechanic with numerous years of experience. Hansen also was a helicopter and airplane pilot who served in the U.S. Navy.

Steele served in a wide variety of roles ranging from patrol officer, to K-9 handler, to SWAT member and motorcycle officer. He held the position of senior motorcycle instructor when he retired. He had been assigned to the Cochise County aviation program since it's inception in May and also was a certified flight instructor.

"Jeff's passing has been felt deeply across our Department. Since his retirement he has held close ties with the Department and has countless close friends still here," Glendale police Chief Debora Black said in a prepared statement. "He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and condolences are with not only Jeff's family, but also with those of the mechanic on board.''

The Cochise County Sheriff's Office statement said they have been impressed with the professionalism and dedication of all Airwest pilots assigned to the program.

"This has truly been a horrific tragedy where two men were taken away from their family and our family too early in their lives, but leaving a legacy which will make their families and our county proud,'' the Cochise County statement said.

"This news leaves me personally and this organization with a heavy heart because of the tragic loss of two incredible lives," Dannels said. "We have worked closely with this company and these two individuals since receiving Cochise Air, and knowing that they are considered part of the Sheriff's Office family makes this so much harder. We send our condolences out to the families of two people who will truly be missed."

Sgt. David Viduare, a Glendale police spokesman, said Steele was "a kind and generous man who was extremely friendly. My biggest memory of him was his passion for flying."

The Cochise County Sheriff's Office was contacted by the helicopter leasing company shortly before 7 p.m. Wednesday and told they had lost communications with Cochise Air near the Benson area. Officials activated tracking software in an attempt to locate the aircraft, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Rescue personnel traced a cellphone to an area south of Interstate 10 outside of Benson. At approximately 9:20 p.m., the Benson Fire Department located the crash site and reported to the two deaths.

The National Transportation and Safety Board was notified about this incident and are conducting an investigation with the assistance of the Sheriff's Office.

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said words can't describe the tragedy.

"This news leaves me personally, and this organization, with a heavy heart because of the tragic loss of two incredible lives," Dannels said. "We have worked closely with this company and these two individuals since receiving Cochise Air, and knowing that they are considered part of the Sheriff's Office family makes this so much harder. We send our condolences out to the families of two people who will truly be missed."

The Cochise County Sheriff's Office unveiled the helicopter last May as part of a one-year exploratory program to boost law-enforcement coverage across the southern Arizona county.

The Bell helicopter was capable of carrying six passengers and a pilot and was fast enough to cover the county in 30 minutes, according to the May press release.

An Airwest helicopter used by the Cochise County Sheriff's Office also made a hard landing outside of Tombstone on Sept. 12 after it apparently lost its rear rotor, according to a Facebook post from the Sheriff's Office. The pilot, Larry Pucci, and the Law Enforcement Observer (LEO), Officer Justin Dannels, were able to walk away without injuries.

"The actions of the pilot in this incident are above commendable as the airship was landed in a clearing in the middle of significant brush and the immediate damage observed was a missing rear rotor,'' the statement said.


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