Federal investigators visit site of Okla. medical helicopter crash that killed 2, injured 1

By Ken Miller, AP
Friday, July 23, 2010

Investigators probe deadly Okla. helicopter crash

OKLAHOMA CITY — A man who saw a medical helicopter crash into a central Oklahoma field told federal investigators the aircraft was “descending in an abnormal fashion” before it hit the ground and burst into flames, killing two of three people on board, a federal investigator said Friday.

“His testimony was that it appeared to be out of control,” National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jason Aguilera told reporters Friday afternoon.

The helicopter had been traveling from Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City to a hospital about 90 miles away in Okeene when it crashed into the field near Kingfisher shortly after 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

“An eyewitness spotted the helicopter descending in an abnormal fashion,” he said.

Pilot Al Harrison, 56, of Edmond, and nurse Ryan Duke, 35, of Oklahoma City, died in the crash, according to a statement issued Friday by EagleMed LLC, the Wichita, Kan.-based company that operates the A-Star 350 helicopter.

Paramedic Michael Eccard, 34, of Edmond, survived the crash and was in serious condition at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City, hospital spokesman Allen Poston said.

Kingfisher Mayor Jack Stuteville said he arrived at the scene not long after the crash after a farmer told him he saw the helicopter spinning and then crash into the remote field, about 50 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

“By the time I got there it was already burned to pieces,” Stuteville said. “The bodies were charred beyond recognition. It was bad.”

He saw Eccard about 50 yards from the crash site.

“I still don’t know how he did it. He must have bailed out just before it hit the ground … there was no way he could have crawled that far,” Stuteville said.

Stuteville said Eccard was conscious and talking when an ambulance crew arrived and that he showed no obvious signs of burn injuries.

On Friday, Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers barred access to the crash site so investigators could gather evidence. The investigation will initially focus on the pilot’s flight records, the maintenance records of the helicopter and weather conditions at the time, Aguilera said.

The Oklahoma Climatological Survey’s Mesonet site near Kingfisher shows wind gusts of between 30 and 35 mph around the time of the crash.

“We can start eliminating what did not happen so we can come up with a probable cause,” he said.

It will be between six and nine months before an initial report on the crash is prepared by the NTSB, Aguilera said. Findings will be compared to other crashes of similar helicopters to determine if there is a trend.

Aguilera said EagleMed’s safety record also will be reviewed as part of the investigation.

A spokesman for the helicopter’s manufacturer, Eurocopter, with headquarters in France and American offices in Grand Prairie, Texas, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Associated Press Writer Tim Talley contributed to this report from Kingfisher.

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