Engine failure took down the Duke Life Flight helicopter earlier this month that killed all four people on board, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) preliminary report says. One of the two engines “exhibited discoloration consistent with overheating and lack of lubrication” and “exhibited rotational nonuniform damage,” the report said. Investigators also found the engine’s bearing roller pins were worn down.
Witnesses told NTSB investigators they saw dark smoke trailing behind the helicopter while it was still in the air. One witness reported hearing a “popping noise” before it turned left, then right and began to descend. The witness said the helicopter “appeared to be ‘in control’ with the rotors turning” just before he lost sight of the aircraft. The helicopter crashed into “a shallow turf drainage pathway” on a wind turbine farm in Hertford, North Carolina. The cabin was collapsed and had been partially consumed by a post-crash fire.
Pilot Jeff Burke and flight nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger were transporting 70-year-old Mary Bartlett to Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City, according to WRAL. Righting Injustice reported that it is the second fatal medical helicopter crash this year.
The Jere Beasley Report recently explained how the Federal Aviation Administration has failed to close a loophole that would help protect helicopter crash victims from post-crash fires. The loophole allows helicopter manufactures to continue using dangerously designed fuel tanks – those that crack upon impact.
Although it is unclear what type of fuel tank was on board the Duke Life Flight helicopter that crashed, nearly 84 percent of the helicopters manufactured since the 1994 do not use crash-resistant fuel tanks, as described by the Jere Beasley Report. During that same time, 40 percent of the helicopter crashes resulted in post-crash fire deaths.
The NTSB continues to investigate the tragic accident and will issue a final report later.
National Transportation Safety Board
Jere Beasley Report