Friday, November 18, 2016

Agusta A109S Grand, N91NM, North Memorial Health Care: Accident occurred September 17, 2016 near Chandler Field Airport (KAXN), Alexandria, Douglas County, Minnesota

National Transportation Safety Board  -  Aviation Accident Preliminary Report:


FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Minneapolis FSDO-15

NTSB Identification: CEN16FA372
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Saturday, September 17, 2016 in Alexandria, MN
Aircraft: AGUSTA A109, registration: N91NM
Injuries: 1 Serious.

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 September 17, 2016, at 0207 central daylight time, an Agusta S.p.A A109S helicopter, N91NM, impacted trees and terrain near Chandler Field Airport (AXN), Alexandria, Minnesota. The commercial rated pilot and two crew members sustained serious injuries and the helicopter was destroyed. The helicopter was registered to North Memorial Health Care, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and operated by North Memorial Medical Center under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 as a positioning flight. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan had been filed. The helicopter departed Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport (BRD), Brainerd, Minnesota about 0135 and was destined for the Douglas County Hospital helipad, Alexandria, Minnesota. 

The pilot stated that he received a call for a flight request about 0100, accepted the flight, and then filed an IFR flight plan to AXN. He was in radio contact with air traffic control (ATC), but radar contact was lost about half way through the flight. About 20 miles from AXN he noticed clouds quickly forming underneath the helicopter. The pilot was cleared for and attempted the RNAV GPS 22 approach to AXN as clouds were still forming beneath the helicopter. The pilot initiated a missed approach by utilizing the "go around" function of the helicopters autopilot. During the missed approach, the helicopter made an uncommanded left bank followed by a right bank. The pilot attempted to counteract the bank by applying opposite cyclic control. 

The helicopter impacted several tall trees and then the ground and continued into a wooded area. Several nearby residents were awake at the time of the accident and heard the helicopters engines and then the sound of the impact. Two other witnesses were outside of their homes east of the airport and observed the helicopter flying overhead prior to the accident. 

At 0201, the AXN weather observation recorded wind from 290 degrees at 10 knots, 9 miles visibility, scattered clouds at 400 ft, broken clouds at 3,600 ft, temperature 57 degrees F, dew point 57 degrees F, and altimeter setting 29.87 inches of mercury. 

At 0209, the AXN weather observation recorded wind from 290 degrees at 12 knots, 4 miles visibility, mist, broken clouds at 300 ft, temperature 57 degrees F, dew point 57 degrees F, and altimeter setting 29.87 inches of mercury. 

The helicopter has been retained for further examination.

For the first time, we're hearing from three medics who survived when their air ambulance crashed in Alexandria.

It happened two months ago, one still remains in the hospital.

"I was ejected from the helicopter and was found on the ground," flight paramedic Miles Weske said. 

"My vertebra from the impact of the force shattered," flight nurse Scott Scepaniak said.

"Helicopters are typically not very survivable, not in a crash like that," says North Memorial Air Care pilot Joshua Jones.

It was 2 a.m. Saturday morning, Sept. 17.

An air ambulance heading from Brainerd to Alexandria crashed just before landing to pick up a patient.

"At some point I noticed the aircraft had gone into a hard left bank, so it was turning sharp left, and then I remember a sharp right, which was probably me over-correcting," Jones said. 

Jones was ejected through the front windshield, he broke bones from his shoulders to his feet.

"I remember my back hurting," Scepaniak said.

Scepaniak was pinned between the helicopter and a tree.

He remembers unbuckling his seatbelt and taking off his helmet, and said he immediately heard voices.

"I remember people talking, trying to find us, trying to figure out who was all there, who was all injured," he said. 

Turns out where they crashed was the first miracle.

"God was very gracious because somehow we ended up in a doctor's yard," Jones said.

The second miracle was Miles Weske.

"The first day we didn't know if he was going to make it," said Brook Weber, Weske's fiancée.

Weske, a flight paramedic, has no memory of the crash.

"I ended up somehow on the ground about 40 feet from the aircraft," he said.

He broke his neck, back, ribs, leg, ankle, had a lacerated liver and bleeding in the brain.

"The priest came in to give me last rites, that's where we were at," he said.

Weske and his fiancée are both flight medics, they've talked about this exact scenario.

"Not really expecting it could happen, but aware it could, and it did," he says.  

When Weske arrived at North Memorial Medical Center 60 days ago he was given only a 1 percent chance of surviving this crash, now he's looking at leaving the hospital this week.

"I'm astonished, and grateful the people who were there, were there," he said. 

The North Memorial family came together Tuesday to celebrate these men, thank them for what they do, and wish them well as they continue to recover.

"I'm doing great, I'm down to two Tylenol before I go to bed, I hope to be walking next week," Jones said with a smile.

Jones and Scepaniak plan to fly again.

Weske isn't sure if his injuries will allow it.

But for all three, the irony of this horrific crash isn't lost on them.

"It hits you, that you leave trying to save a patient and you become a patient, it's a tough thing to deal with," Scepaniak said. 

The National Transportation Safety Board says the cause of the crash hasn't been determined, but weather had moved into the area.

Weske and Weber had planned to marry last month, their wedding has now been rescheduled for January.

Weske is bound and determined to walk down the aisle.

You can visit a Go Fund Me page set up to help Weske here.

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