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Pilot Faulted in Copter Crash

Accident: A lack of power was also among the factors contributing to the accident during a high-altitude rescue on Mt. Hood, military says.

September 18, 2002|From Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Pilot error and a lack of power caused an Air Force Reserve helicopter to crash while performing a high-altitude rescue mission on Mt. Hood in May, military investigators said Tuesday.

Investigators said several factors contributed to the crash of the Pave Hawk helicopter at 10,700 feet, including failure to follow proper procedure when calculating how much power the helicopter needed and the pilot's slow reaction time when the aircraft began to falter.

The investigators said the helicopter did not malfunction.

The incident on May 30 began when several climbers lost their footing on Oregon's highest mountain and began sliding down a glacier about 800 feet below the 11,245-foot summit. They collided with two other parties of climbers, sending nine people into a crevasse.

Three people--49-year-old William Ward and 48-year-old Richard Read, both of Forest Grove, and John Biggs, 62, of Windsor, Calif.--died in the accident.

Five hours later, the Air Force Reserve helicopter was hovering above the climbers--and was preparing to haul one up by cable--when it started rocking and moving backward, losing control in the icy mountain air.

The nose of the helicopter crashed into the slope, thrusting its body into the mountain and shattering its rotors as it rolled 200 feet down the slope. Four of six crew members were tossed out of an open side door. All of the crew members were injured, but only one seriously.

A series of mistakes led to the crash, investigators said Tuesday.

Flight engineers miscalculated how much power the chopper needed to complete the rescue by about 6%, they said. In addition, flight engineers made the first power calculations using manual charts, but they did not perform a second manual calculation as required by Air Force procedure.

Instead, the flight engineers used a flight instrument that had been decertified since January to verify their manual calculations, said Col. Stephen Duresky, the lead investigator.

Duresky said dramatically changing headwinds could have complicated the situation. When the chopper took off, winds were blowing at 12 to 15 knots, but they got stronger quickly, he said.

Once the helicopter began losing power and faltering in the air, the pilot's slow reaction time caused it to go into a nose dive, Duresky said.

The pilot should have immediately released the cable attached to the stretcher holding the injured climber below, turned to the left and circled back. Instead, Duresky said, crewmen didn't release the cable until the helicopter--out of control--attempted to land, but instead crashed.

"The one decision the pilots make is, 'Can we do the mission or can't we?' They decided they could and made an error," Duresky said.

Although it will cost $4.7 million to repair, Duresky said the Pave Hawk will fly again.

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