Crash survivors say Era Aviation helicopter went down with no warning

Posted: Friday, November 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Era Aviation helicopter that crashed in Cook Inlet last month went down without warning as it flew low over the water, according to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board.

The two survivors of the Oct. 18 crash told the NTSB there was no obvious sign of mechanical failure in the helicopter, chief investigator Kurt Anderson said.

The cause of the crash remains unknown, Anderson said.

But interviews with survivors Steven Durand and William Dick at their Anchorage hospital beds have allowed him to piece together some events leading up to the crash, which killed Era pilot Bob Larson and Federal Aviation Administration technicians Joyce Tucker and Ronald Frizzell.

''They were very consistent,'' Anderson said of their stories.

Durand and Dick, also with the FAA, said it was snowing heavily when the helicopter lifted off from Fire Island, where the FAA was working on navigation aids. As the craft headed across the channel toward Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, it descended to what one survivor estimated to be 10 to 15 feet above the water.

The snowstorm had reduced visibility to what they called a whiteout, he said.

''They said the water was very calm and flat, there was no clearly discernible horizon, and they couldn't see the shoreline,'' Anderson told the Anchorage Daily News.

Disaster struck a few minutes into the flight, without any warning from the pilot or any obvious sign of mechanical failure.

''They both said they saw the helicopter's skids drag through the water,'' Anderson said. ''The pilot made a kind of a rapid pullup, and after that their stories are a little bit different, but there were a lot of erratic movements of the aircraft; the pilot was moving the controls around a lot.

''That lasted anywhere from five to 10 seconds, until they hit the water hard,'' he said.

Before the helicopter hit the water, one survivor heard the pilot sending a distress call, Anderson said.

The survivors' memories of what happened after the final impact were unclear, Anderson said, and he didn't press them. He plans to do further interviews in the future.

The helicopter crashed about 3:50 p.m., Anderson said. National Guard rescue helicopters were launched at 4:10 and 4:20.

Searchers found the pilot's body the next day.

The helicopter, with the remaining victims, was recovered on Oct. 26, shifted by tides and currents more than two miles from the crash site. It showed signs of a hard impact, Anderson said.

An inspection of the helicopter will take up to three weeks.

The NTSB also is reviewing the helicopter's maintenance records and checking to see if there were any violations of federal aviation regulations during the flight, Anderson said.

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