Friday, August 8, 2008

NTSB: Helicopter took off slowly, hit tree

The helicopter that crashed on the fire in California, killing 9, took off slower than usual and then hit a tree, according to NTSB statements in a news conference today.
After picking up a crew of firefighters from a remote landing spot on the flank of a wildfire a heavy helicopter appeared to take off and move forward more slowly than normal before hitting trees and crashing, a federal transportation official said early this afternoon.

The privately-owned Sikorsky S-61N had lifted about 50 feet off the ground near the north end of the Buckhorn Fire in Trinity County Tuesday night when its nose hit a tree. Just after that its rotors smashed into trees, said Kitty Higgins, a board member with the National Transportation Safety Board today.

The chopper fell to the ground, landing on its left side about 150 yards from where it had lifted off, she said, and black smoke soon billowed from the wreckage.

Higgins safety board investigators interviewed 10 of the crash’s 30 witnesses and flew into the crash site via helicopter after arriving in the north state Thursday.

At the site they found the helicopter’s voice recorder, which is being flown to Washington, D.C., where it will be examined Saturday, Higgins said.

“The recorder is in better condition than we thought it would be,” she said at a press conference in Redding today.

Weather at the time of the crash — about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday — was clear with light winds blowing at about 5 miles per hour, Higgins said. The helicopter had been flying since 4:30 p.m. that day, having done two water drops and transported two other fire crews before taking off with a crew of two, 10 contract firefighters and a U.S. Forest Service pilot.

Today investigators will evaluate the height of the trees surrounding the crash site, Higgins said. They also will work with coroner’s office workers from both Shasta and Trinity counties to remove the remains of victims still in the wreckage. She said that work should be done today.

From the Redding Searchlight

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