Friday, September 08, 2017

Eurocopter MBB BK 117C-2, N146DU, operated by Air Methods Corporation: Fatal accident occurred September 08, 2017 in Hertford, Perquimans County, North Carolina

Duke Life Flight crash: Family members blame engine manufacturer, pilot in lawsuit 

Durham, N.C. — The families of two people killed in a Duke Life Flight crash in September have filed a lawsuit, claiming the helicopter’s manufacturer knew there was a risk of engine fires and that the pilot was at fault for not following emergency procedures.

The helicopter, which was based at Johnston Regional Airport in Smithfield, was en route to Duke University Hospital on Sept. 8 when it went down.

Nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger, pilot Jeff Burke and patient Mary Susan White Bartlett were all killed in the crash.

The lawsuit filed Monday by Bartlett’s husband and Harrison’s wife claims the cause of the crash was a failure of the No. 2 engine and that witnesses to the crash reported seeing smoke trailing behind the helicopter before it went down.

“All evidence points to a blocked engine drain line,” said Gary Robb, the attorney representing the families. “That blockage will lead to an engine fire and then complete shutdown of that engine. We believe that is exactly what happened in this crash.”

According to the lawsuit, an examination of the engine by the National Transportation Safety Board determined the engine’s rear turbine shaft showed discoloration consistent with overheating and that bearing roller pins were worn down.

The manufacturer of the helicopter’s engines- identified in the lawsuit as Safran Helicopter Engines- should have been aware of potential for engine failure after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a bulletin about another incident involving an engine problem on the same model helicopter that occurred on Jan. 26 in South Dakota, the lawsuit states.

“The engine and aircraft manufacturers knew at least since January 2017 how extremely dangerous this potential engine fire and failure situation was, yet they sat on their hands and did nothing,” Robb said.

The lawsuit also claims Burke was at fault in the crash for failure to perform proper emergency procedures when faced with the engine failure. Family members claim that he “did not continue in forward flight and failed to execute autorotation landing maneuver, which would have safety landed the helicopter.”

Story and video ➤

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration; Washington, District of Columbia
Air Methods Corporation; Englewood, Colorado
SAFRAN Turbomeca; Grand Prairie, Texas
Airbus Helicopters; Grand Prairie, Texas

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Location: Hertford, NC
Accident Number: ERA17FA316
Date & Time: 09/08/2017, 1120 EDT
Registration: N146DU
Injuries: 4 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter - Non-scheduled - Air Medical (Discretionary) 

On September 8, 2017, about 1120 eastern daylight time, a Eurocopter Deutschland GMBH MBB BK117-C2 helicopter, N146DU, was destroyed when it crashed on a wind turbine farm in Hertford, North Carolina. The commercial pilot, two flight nurses, and one patient were fatally injured. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time, and a company flight plan was filed for flight that departed the Sentara Albemarle Regional Medical Center Heliport (NC98) about 1108. The flight was destined for the Duke University North Heliport (NC92). The helicopter was operated by Air Methods Corporation under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135.

According to the operator, on the morning of the accident, the pilot and both medical crew flew from their base at the Johnston Regional Airport (JNX), Smithfield, North Carolina to the Elizabeth City Regional Airport (ECG), Elizabeth City, North Carolina for refueling. They arrived at ECG about 0924, and loaded 70 gallons of fuel. About 1011, the crew radioed the company operations center and advised they were departing for NC98, and had 2 hours of fuel on board. They arrived at NC98 about 1022. At 1108, the pilot radioed the company operations center and advised that that they were departing for NC92 with 2 hours of fuel and four people on board. There were no further communications with the helicopter.

Preliminary data transmitted from the helicopter showed that it departed NC98 to the northwest, climbed to about 1,000 ft mean sea level (msl) and then turned west. The helicopter climbed to about 2,500 ft msl and continued on a westerly track at a groundspeed of about 120 knots. About 8 minutes after takeoff, the helicopter began a turn toward the south. About 1 minute later, the transmitted data ended at an altitude of about 1,200 ft msl and a groundspeed of 75 knots, while the helicopter was on a southeasterly track.

Several witnesses reported observing smoke trailing behind the helicopter while it was in flight. The smoke was described by some witnesses as "heavy" or "dark", while others reported the color as "black", "dark blue" or "blue." One witness reported that the helicopter was "hovering" and "not travelling forward" while it was a "couple of hundred feet" above the wind turbine farm. Another witness reported hearing a "popping noise," he then observed the helicopter turn left, then right. It then descended quickly and appeared "in control" with the rotors turning before he lost sight of it.

The helicopter impacted a shallow turf drainage pathway, about 30 ft wide and 2,000 ft long, located between two fields of 8 ft tall grass, on a wind turbine farm. The fuselage came to rest in a 7 ft wide ditch in the center of the pathway, and was oriented on a heading of 261° magnetic. No ground scars were present leading toward or away from the main wreckage.

Examination of the wreckage revealed that all the major components of the helicopter were present at the accident site. The cabin had collapsed downward and was partially consumed by a postcrash fire. The tailboom remained largely intact. Flight control continuity was established from the cockpit area to the rotor systems and engines. All main and tail rotor blades remained attached to the rotor hubs. The No. 4 (red) main rotor blade was found rotated about 180° in the hub with its pitch links fractured and partially melted. None of the main or tail rotor blades exhibited leading edge damage, chordwise scratches, or other evidence of rotation. The outboard 4 ft of No. 1 (yellow) blade came to rest in the 8 ft tall grass adjacent to the drainage path. The grass on either side of the blade was undisturbed. The tail rotor shaft remained attached to the transmission. The transmission could not be rotated by hand.

No foreign object damage was found on the axial compressor blades of either engine. No damage was observed on the visible portions of the turbine blades at the rear of either engine. The gas generator of the No. 1 engine moved freely when rotated by hand, the No. 2 engine gas generator would not rotate. The No. 1 engine fuel shutoff valve was found in the open position. The No. 2 engine fuel shutoff valve was damaged and its position could not be determined during the field examination. The No. 2 engine rear turbine shaft bearing exhibited discoloration consistent with overheating and lack of lubrication. The bearing roller pins were worn down to the surface of the bearing race. The end of the turbine shaft aft of the nut exhibited rotational nonuniform damage.

The helicopter was equipped with an on-board audio and video recording system. The unit was thermally damaged; however, the memory device remained intact. The unit was sent to the NTSB vehicle recorder laboratory for examination.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airworthiness records and helicopter maintenance records, the helicopter was manufactured in 2011. The helicopter's most recent 30-hour engine inspection was completed on August 15, 2017. At that time, the helicopter and both engines had accrued 2,673 total hours of operation. Several additional inspections were completed during scheduled maintenance on September 1, 2017. At that time, the helicopter had accrued 2,710 total hours of operation. According to the operator, a daily airworthiness check is performed by a mechanic.

According to FAA airman records, the pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for rotorcraft-helicopter and instrument-helicopter. His most recent second class medical certificate was issued on October 6, 2016, at which time he reported 4,362 total hours of flight experience. According to the operator, the pilot had accrued 1,027 hours of flight time in the same make and model as the accident helicopter, and had been employed with Air Methods Corporation since August 2009.

The helicopter was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N146DU
Model/Series: MBB BK 117 C2
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Air Methods Corporation
Operating Certificate(s) Held: On-demand Air Taxi (135)

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KECG, 13 ft msl
Observation Time: 1154 EDT
Distance from Accident Site: 15 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 24°C / 12°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 6 knots, 350°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.18 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: Company VFR
Departure Point: ELIZABETH CITY, NC (NC98)
Destination: DURHAM, NC (NC92)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 3 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: Both
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: Unknown
Total Injuries: 4 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 36.290278, -76.487500

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

The pilot, Jeff Burke

Flight nurse Crystal Sollinger, R.N.

Flight nurse Kris Harrison, R.N.

Mary Bartlett, 70, was being treated in the helicopter when it crashed, according to her daughter Tiffany Bartlett Thompson. 

BELVIDERE, N.C. (AP)–Duke Health released on Saturday the names of the nurses and pilot who died in a medical helicopter crash in northeastern North Carolina on Friday.

The three workers who died were flight nurses Kris Harrison, R.N. and Crystal Sollinger, R.N. and, the pilot, Jeff Burke, according to Duke Life Flight.

The helicopter crashed around 11:45 a.m. on Friday in Perquimans County after leaving Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, authorities said.

“The Duke University Hospital and entire Duke University family continues to grieve their loss,” Sarah Avery, Duke Health spokeswoman said in a news release Saturday.

Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived Saturday to investigate.

The helicopter and crew were based out of Johnston Regional Airport in Smithfield, officials confirmed. Duke Life Flight has been based at Johnston Regional Airport for more than 10 years.

Belvidere, N.C. — The debris from the crash of a Duke Life Flight helicopter could be a key to why it went down.

The flight, bearing a pilot, two nurses and a patient, crashed Friday afternoon in a grassy field near a wind farm outside of Belvidere, bear the Perquimans-Gates county line.

The helicopter was based out of Johnston Regional Airport in Smithfield and was on its way to Duke University Hospital.

On Saturday, Duke shared the names of the staff on board. They were flight nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger and pilot Jeff Burke. The name of the patient on board was not released.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were brought in to assist with the investigation. They'll look into weather, location and maintenance activity for clues, James Crouse, a retired Army helicopter pilot and aviation lawyer, said Saturday.

Another key could be the shape of the crash site.

"One of the things that investigators look for is whether the actual crash site was elongated, which means there was horizontal movement, or whether it was localized and symmetrical," Crouse said.

"The best I can tell from these videos, there was very little horizontal movement. It looked like it came down fairly abruptly and fairly vertically."

To Crouse, that would tend to indicate that something happened in the aircraft suddenly and quickly.

Duke has grounded its other Life Flight helicopter until further notice. Both were 5 years old. They fly to all of North Carolina and to parts of South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

Life Flight also had a fatal crash in October 2000.

In that crash, the pilot instructed the crew to take a patient from Alamance Regional Hospital to Duke Hospital on the ground after seeing a warning light indicating a problem with transmission oil pressure. The helicopter crashed in a Burlington neighborhood shortly after takeoff as it was returning to Durham, killing the pilot.

Story and video ➤

A Duke University Health System helicopter crashed Friday, killing four people in Perquimans County in eastern North Carolina.

The crash occurred around 11:45 a.m. The Life Flight helicopter was returning to Duke from the Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City, Perquimans County Sheriff Shelby White said.

N.C. Highway Patrol spokesman Master Trooper Christopher Knox said the helicopter went down around near Belvidere, close to the Virginia border and about 160 miles east of Raleigh.

Three of the four victims were identified Saturday by Duke University Health System officials. They were flight nurses Kris Harrison, R.N., and Crystal Sollinger, R.N., and pilot Jeff Burke. The identity of the patient they were transporting was not released.

Authorities don’t know what caused the crash, he said. The Federal Aviation Administration was notified. The helicopter and its crew were based at Johnston Regional Airport, airport officials said.

Another Highway Patrol spokesman, Sgt. Michael Baker, said the National Transportation Safety Board has also been notified. At first, Perquimans County authorities led the investigation, but federal officials were due to take over after arriving.

Sheriff White said law enforcement, fire, rescue and emergency personnel from Perquimans County responded, along with the Highway Patrol.

The crash site was in a field east of the intersection of Swamp Road and Sandy Cross Roads, near some wind turbines.

Duke Health officials, through spokeswoman Sarah Avery, confirmed “with deep sorrow” that the helicopter had crashed near Belvidere, an unincorporated community about 12 miles from Elizabeth City between Albemarle Sound and the Chowan River.

A spokeswoman for the Sentara Albemarle hospital, Annya Soucy, said the helicopter had picked up a patient needing an inter-hospital transfer to Duke.

Though such taxi flights are common, “between our hospital and Duke [they] are not common,” she said.

“There were no reports there were any issues” before the helicopter left, Soucy said, adding hospital staffers “have been in contact with the patient’s family” since the crash.

Kevin Sowers, president of Duke University Hospital, confirmed that the dead are two nurses, the pilot and the patient they were transferring from Elizabeth City.

“Today is a tragic loss for all of us,” Sowers said. “The men and women of our Life Flight program know when they go to work every day that there are risks in taking off. Yet they go because they’re committed to saving lives. That’s an incredible part of our mission.”

Duke Health officials “will cooperate with the NTSB on the investigation” and had worked throughout the afternoon to offer counseling and support to Life Flight and Duke Health staffers who are grieving, Sowers said.

Avery said the system wasn’t releasing the names of the victims, at the request of their families.

Reaction from local emergency personnel was swift.

“Heartfelt thoughts and prayers for all families affected by this tragic incident,” Durham County Emergency Management Director Jim Groves said via Twitter. “The response community in Durham is saddened.”

“We in emergency services know there are inherent dangers which come along with the job; nevertheless we answer the call,” Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said in a Facebook post. “Our brothers and sisters will be missed but never forgotten.”

Duke Life Flight was the first hospital-based emergency transport service when it was founded in 1985. It has grown from that single helicopter to two, and seven ground ambulances, based in Durham and in Smithfield.

Each helicopter – both Eurocopter EC145s – can travel at about 150 mph and cover all of North Carolina and parts of South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. A typical flight includes two critical care providers, a pilot and a single patient. Team members work rotating 12-hour shifts.

Avery confirmed that the one that crashed bore the tail number N146DU. An FAA database indicates the twin-engined craft was manufactured in 2011.

Life Flight provides basic life support transportation for patients discharged from Duke Hospital, critical care transportation, and ferries crews for organ harvest and retrieval. The Life Flight staff includes critical care paramedics, advanced life support paramedics, emergency medical technicians, respiratory therapists and a dedicated neonatal/pediatric transport unit.

Friday’s crash was the 10th fatal helicopter accident in the U.S. this year, and the second involving an air ambulance, the NTSB’s accident-report database says. The previous air ambulance crash this year happened in May, and involved a Eurocopter EC135 belonging to the University of Pennsylvania. It crashed near New Castle, Delaware, while on a training flight, killing its pilot.

An Outer Banks Voice photograph credited to Tonya Byrd shows the weather at the crash site was near-cloudless, the sort of “visual flight rules” conditions FAA doctrine holds should give the pilot of a properly functioning airplane or helicopter ample time to “see and avoid” contact with the ground, an obstacle or another aircraft.

Regardless of the weather, Duke’s helicopters are “outfitted with the latest in-flight instrumentation and safety features,” Avery said.

Friday’s crash isn’t the first involving a Duke helicopter, though. Another went down in 2000 after developing mechanical problems on its way to Alamance Regional Medical Center in Burlington. Pilot John A. Holland was killed.

The NTSB’s final report on that crash said an oil pressure warning light went off shortly before Holland landed the craft at the Burlington hospital. A mechanic checked it, but he thought the problem was an instrumentation fault. Instead, the main rotor gearbox’s oil pump had failed. Leaving a patient and two nurses behind, Holland tried to ferry the helicopter back to Duke. A minute after takeoff, “oil starvation” triggered a gearbox failure and the crash.

The NSTB ruled that the probable cause of the 2000 crash was the mechanic’s failure to follow the manufacturer’s procedures for checking an oil pressure warning light.

As it did in 2000, Duke Health reacted to Friday’s crash by temporarily grounding the Life Flight program. Other air-ambulance services in the state will cover air-transport needs at Duke in the meantime, via prior mutual-aid agreements, Sowers said.

The grounding as much as anything is about working with Life Flight’s 80 to 90 staffers to make “sure they’re ready to fly again when we take the program back up, because it’s not something you get over right away,” Sowers said.

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BELVIDERE — A Duke Life Flight helicopter en route from Elizabeth City to Durham crashed in Perquimans County on Friday killing four people, officials said.

State Highway Patrol Master Trooper Christopher Knox said the helicopter went down about 11:45 a.m. near the town of Belvidere. Patrol spokesman Michael Baker said there were no survivors.

Dale Gauding, a spokesman for Sentara Healthcare, confirmed the helicopter had departed Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City a little before 11 a.m. and was headed for the hospital in Durham.

One of the persons aboard the helicopter had been a patient at Sentara Albemarle, Gauding said. The others were members of the Duke Life Flight crew, he said.

None of the identities of the persons aboard the helicopter have been released. 

Authorities were still searching for bodies of the victims as of late Friday afternoon, according to Perquimans emergency officials.

One person who made it to the crash site and spoke on the condition of anonymity called the site “pretty much just a blackened pile of rubble.”

“The only thing left of the helicopter was the rotor blades and part of the tail,” the person said. 

The area around the crash site was covered in tall switchgrass. He said he saw one body.

“The assumption is the others were under the rubble or in the switchgrass,” he said.

The area where the helicopter went down is near the Amazon Wind Farm US East wind complex, a Perquimans law enforcement official said.

Paul Copleman, a spokesman for Avangrid Renewables, the firm that owns the wind farm, said the helicopter did not make contact with any of its equipment. 

Knox said authorities have no idea what caused the crash. He said the Federal Aviation Administration has been notified and state troopers are on the scene to secure the site.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the National Transportation Safety Board will be in charge of the investigation into the crash and will determine the cause.

Sentara Albemarle President Coleen Santa Ana said the hospital was “deeply saddened” by the deaths of those killed in the crash.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the patient who was lost and to those closest to the crew members,” she said. “We also extend our sincere sympathies to Duke University Medical Center on the loss of their colleagues. This tragedy reminds us of the devotion of healthcare professionals to the service of others.”

The Duke Life Flight web page says its helicopters usually have two critical care providers and a pilot onboard and can only carry one patient at a time.

The Perquimans County Sheriff’s Office was on the scene, and members of the Belvidere-Chappell Hill Volunteer Fire Department were observed securing a landing site for an EastCare medical helicopter to land at Craft Air Services on Swamp Road.

EastCare, a division of Greenville-based Vidant Health, lost three staff members in a crash on Jan. 9, 1987. The helicopter went down in Hoffman Forest near Pollocksville, located in Jones County while en route from the U.S. Naval Hospital at Camp Lejeune with a 3-month-old patient.

Original article can be found here ➤

BELVIDERE, North Carolina (WTVD) --  The North Carolina Highway Patrol says four people are dead in a Duke Life Flight helicopter crash in Perquimans County near Belvidere in eastern North Carolina.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, a Eurocopter MBB-BK went down around 11:30 Friday morning near Swamp Road and Sandy Cross Road close to the Amazon US Wind Farm East wind turbine complex.

The Perquimans County Sheriff's Office is handling the investigation at the crash scene.

Duke Health officials issued this statement:

"With deep sorrow we can confirm that a Duke Life Flight helicopter crashed early this afternoon near Belvedere, North Carolina. We are in the process of directly confirming information related to this incident and will share more information as it becomes available."

Authorities said the helicopter was flying to Duke Medical Center from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center when it crashed.

Duke has a fleet of aircraft to transport patients in need of critical care.

The sheriff's office has yet to release the names of those involved.

Sheriff Shelby White said an eyewitness claims they saw smoke coming out of the chopper as it was hovering before it crashed.

Original article can be found here ➤

1 comment:

  1. And now the family of the patient and the wife of flight nurse Kris Harrison has filed suit against the pilot's estate. The pilot leaves behind a wife and two children.