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Initial helicopter crash report offers few details

Posted: April 10, 2013 - 9:55pm

ANCHORAGE — The National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report on the crash of an Alaska State Trooper helicopter gives few clues regarding the cause, but much more will be known following analysis of a cockpit imaging and flight data monitoring device, Alaska crash investigator Clint Johnson said Wednesday.

Pilot Mel Nading, 55, Trooper Tage Toll, 40, and an injured snowmobiler they had picked up, Carl Ober, 56, of Talkeetna, all died in the crash late April 30 about 5.6 miles from Talkeetna.

The Eurocopter AS350 was equipped with an Appareo Vision 1000 cockpit imaging and flight data monitoring device. Positioned above and between the two front seats of the helicopter, the device videos the instrument panel and actions of people in the front seats.

“There’s obviously very sensitive information on this video and we treat that with the utmost respect,” Johnson said. “That needs to be made clear. Just a very select few of the investigators and folks that are associated with the accident investigation will be viewing that.”

Nading was the troopers primary rescue pilot for more than 12 years and was responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of people in trouble off the road system in Alaska.

The day of the crash, Ober used a cellphone to say he had injured his ribs and was not dressed to spend a night outside.

Nading flew north 80 miles from Anchorage and landed to pick up Trooper Toll in Talkeetna. Nading routinely carried a second person to act as a spotter on missions and Toll knew the area.

They found Ober near Larson Lake about 10 miles east of Talkeetna, and landed at 10:01 p.m. The terrain is wooded with hills but relatively flat.

The NTSB said the helicopter took off again at 11:13 p.m. for what should have been a flight of five minutes or less to Talkeetna, where medics were waiting for Ober. The official weather observation at the Talkeetna airport reported calm winds, 7 miles of visibility and decreasing snow, with broken clouds at 900 and 1,300 feet and the sky overcast at 2,400 feet. The temperature was 34.

The helicopter flew 2.5 to 3 miles, Johnson said, before crashing.

The aircraft was destroyed by the crash and a fire that started afterward.

Investigators do not know at what height or speed the helicopter was flying, Johnson said, but that should be revealed by the cockpit device.

“It doesn’t record just cockpit imagery,” he said. “It also records other parameters like pitch, roll, yaw, heading, altitude — a number of different channels, basically. It’s going to give us a fair amount of insight into the last moments of the flight.”

Investigators found the device two days after the crash.

“We knew it was on board, but we had a hard time finding it,” he said.

It was sent, along with a Garmin 296 global positioning system, to the NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

A video recorder group next week will convene to review data pulled from the devices. Lead investigator Aaron Sauer will be part of the group, along with representatives of Eurocoptor, engine manufacturer Turbomeca, the Alaska State Troopers and the Federal Aviation Administration and others, Johnson said.

“That group will analyze not only the video but also the recorded information frame by frame and then produce a transcript,” he said.

The next information on the crash will be released when a final report is completed about nine months after the crash, unless a flight safety matter that needs to be changed immediately is detected.

“We really don’t piecemeal information out,” Johnson said.

Wreckage of the helicopter was recovered and placed in a Wasilla hangar. The entire investigative team will return to Alaska to review wreckage the week of May 6.

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