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NTSB: pilot said he was dissatisfied with training before crash

Posted: Monday, May 22, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The pilot in a deadly helicopter crash near Juneau last year told two people about a week earlier that he felt pressured to fly in marginal weather, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator said.

New Zealand-born pilot Nigel Cook and his six passengers died last June 9 when a Eurocopter AS-350 helicopter owned by Coastal Helicopters slammed into the Herbert Glacier on a routine sightseeing flight.

The NTSB's fact-finding report draws no conclusions about the crash, but does describe a relatively inexperienced pilot flying a full aircraft in weather conditions that can disorient pilots.

''Flat light conditions, overcast clouds and textureless white snow on the surface,'' said Matt Thomas, an NTSB investigator who interviewed pilots who flew over the scene moments after the crash.

''Both of the pilots who showed up at the accident site, probably within ten minutes of the accident, indicated that the cloud ceiling was several hundred feet above them but they couldn't tell how high it was and they had difficulty seeing the surface,'' Thomas told KTOO radio in Juneau for a story that aired Monday.

Cook was apparently uncomfortable flying in Juneau's uncertain weather and was looking for work elsewhere.

Both the pilot's former employer in Arizona and the owner of the New Zealand company where he trained told the NTSB that Cook called them about a week before the accident to say he was dissatisfied with his training and felt pressured to fly in marginal weather.

The report delved into Cook's piloting experience in detail.

Although he wrote to Coastal Helicopters that he had 880 hours of helicopter flight time, the NTSB could only confirm 612 hours. That's still enough to satisfy federal regulations.

Cook had been hired by Coastal Helicopters a month before the accident, and he had less than eight hours of flying time in the Eurocopter AS-350, according to the report. The company cleared him to fly the aircraft two days before the crash.

The NTSB has not issued a report on the probable cause of the crash, and Thomas said that conclusion could be delayed because the agency is short-staffed.

The Coastal Helicopters crash was the first of four helicopter crashes near Juneau last summer. Three Temsco helicopters went down on the same day in September, also in flat lighting conditions. Nobody was killed in those accidents.

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