Local News

Crash pattern could be key to why Duke Life Flight went down

Posted September 9

— The debris from the crash of a Duke Life Flight helicopter could be a key to why it went down.

The flight, bearing a pilot, two nurses and a patient, crashed Friday afternoon in a grassy field near a wind farm outside of Belvidere, bear the Perquimans-Gates county line.

The helicopter was based out of Johnston Regional Airport in Smithfield and was on its way to Duke University Hospital.

On Saturday, Duke shared the names of the staff on board. They were flight nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger and pilot Jeff Burke. The name of the patient on board was not released.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were brought in to assist with the investigation. They'll look into weather, location and maintenance activity for clues, James Crouse, a retired Army helicopter pilot and aviation lawyer, said Saturday.

Another key could be the shape of the crash site.

"One of the things that investigators look for is whether the actual crash site was elongated, which means there was horizontal movement, or whether it was localized and symmetrical," Crouse said.

"The best I can tell from these videos, there was very little horizontal movement. This would tend to indicate that it came down fairly abruptly and fairly vertically."

To Crouse, that would tend to indicate that something happened in the aircraft suddenly and quickly.

Duke has grounded its other Life Flight helicopter until further notice. Both were 5 years old. They fly to all of North Carolina and to parts of South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

Life Flight also had a fatal crash in October 2000.

In that crash, the pilot instructed the crew to take a patient from Alamance Regional Hospital to Duke Hospital on the ground after seeing a warning light indicating a problem with transmission oil pressure. The helicopter crashed in a Burlington neighborhood shortly after takeoff as it was returning to Durham, killing the pilot.

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