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Thu, Jul 17, 2008

NTSB Issues Preliminary Report On AZ Medevac Midair

Helicopters Collided On Approach To Flagstaff Airport

Editor's Note: Below is the unedited text of the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report, released this week, regarding the June 29 midair collision of two emergency medical service helicopters near a hospital in Flagstaff, AZ. As ANN reported, four persons onboard one Bell 407 and three aboard the second 407 were killed when the aircraft collided as both were on approach to land at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Video footage of the collision, obtained from a parking lot surveillance camera at the hospital, shows one helicopter approaching from the north, with the other coming in from the south. Visual conditions prevailed at the time of the crash, with partial cloud cover and light winds reported.

NTSB Identification: DEN08MA116B
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Sunday, June 29, 2008 in Flagstaff, AZ
Aircraft: Bell 407, registration: N407MJ
Injuries: 7 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On June 29, 2008, at 1547 mountain standard time, a Bell 407 emergency medical service (EMS) helicopter, N407GA, and a Bell 407 EMS helicopter, N407MJ, collided in mid air while approaching the Flagstaff Medical Center helipad (3AZ0), Flagstaff, Arizona. Both helicopters were destroyed. N407GA's commercial pilot, flight nurse, and patient sustained fatal injuries; and N407MJ's commercial pilot, flight paramedic, flight nurse, and patient sustained fatal injuries. N407GA was operated by Air Methods Corp., Englewood, Colorado, and registered to Flagstaff Medical Center, Flagstaff, Arizona. N407MJ was operated by Classic Helicopter Services, Page, Arizona, and registered to M&J Leisure, L.L.C., Ogden, Utah. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and company flight plans were filed for the Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 air medical flights. N407GA's flight departed the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG), Flagstaff, at 1544, and N407MJ's flight departed the Grand Canyon National Park Service South Rim helibase, Tusayan, Arizona, at 1517.

At 1516, N407GA, call sign Angel 1, contacted Guardian Air dispatch at FLG and reported that they were departing Winslow, Arizona, with four people on board; the pilot, the two flight nurses and the patient. The pilot stated that his estimated time en route was 25 minutes and he was either going to land at FLG or proceed direct to the Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC). He was not sure if he would be at the proper weight to land with enough power to execute a safe out of ground effect hover. At 1519, the Guardian Air dispatch transportation coordinator contacted the FMC that Angel 1 was inbound to the helipad in approximately 23 minutes.

At 1519, N407MJ, call sign Lifeguard 2, contacted their communications center and reported that they had departed the south rim of the Grand Canyon and were en route to the FMC with an estimated time en route of 32 minutes, and four people on board; the pilot, the flight nurse, the flight paramedic, and the patient. About a minute later, the captain on Angel 1 called Guardian Air dispatch and reported that they were going to "drop one" at FLG before proceeding to Flagstaff Medical Center.

At 1523, the dispatcher on duty at Classic Helicopter Service contacted Guardian Air dispatch and reported that Lifeguard 2 was en route to the FMC and would be arriving from the north. He also reported that it would be a "cold drop," and the emergency department at the hospital had already been notified. The Guardian Air dispatch transportation coordinator then informed the Classic dispatcher that Angel 1 was also en route and would be landing at Flagstaff Medical Center in 20 minutes.

At the end of that call, the Guardian Air dispatch transportation coordinator called FMC and stated that Lifeguard 2 would also be landing at the hospital in "about 28 minutes...and they know about mine coming in." The person who answered the phone in the emergency department responded, "All right." The transport coordinator then contacted the captain of Angel 1 and informed him that Lifeguard 2 would also be landing at Flagstaff Medical Center in approximately 28 minutes. The captain responded, "Roger will be looking for 'em thanks."

At 1532, the captain of Lifeguard 2 contacted the Classic Helicopter Service communication center, provided a position report and said that they were 15 minutes from landing at FMC. The dispatcher on duty responds, "Comm center copies all sir...I'll talk to you on the ground in 15 minutes, 1532." This was the last recorded communication from N407MJ's pilot.

Also at 1532, the captain on Angel 1 contacted Guardian Air dispatch and reported that they were 10 minutes from landing at FLG. At 1544, the captain for Angel 1 contacted Guardian Air dispatch and stated, "Control Angel 1 if you haven't figured it out we've uh landed at the...airport departed and we're about two minutes out of the hospital." The transportation coordinator responded and copied the transmission. This was the last recorded communication from N407GA's pilot.

A review of the recorded transmissions made between both medical crews and the hospital revealed that both of the medical crews contacted the emergency department at FMC and provided medical reports on their respective patients. At the time Angel 1 contacted the hospital, they provided an estimated time of arrival in 15 minutes. The Classic Helicopter Services medical crew reported an estimated time of arrival of 18 minutes. The hospital staff that received the phone calls from both aircraft did not provide any information or warning about the other helicopter that was also en route to the Flagstaff Medical Center helipad.

Several people witnessed the collision of the helicopters as they approached the hospital helipad and reported seeing both helicopters descending into wooded terrain about 1/4 mile from the heliport. There was a small fire noted rising from the hilly terrain, followed by a loud explosion about 10 minutes after the collision.

A surveillance camera, mounted on a parking garage at the hospital, captured the collision on digital video. The video depicted one helicopter approaching from north and one helicopter approaching from the south, and shows both aircraft descending after the collision. The video has been sent to the NTSB Vehicle Recorders laboratory, Washington, DC, for further examination.

The accident site was located in a partially wooded, rocky mesa, approximately 1/4 mile east of the FMC helipad at an elevation of 7,060 feet mean sea level. N407GA's main wreckage was located on the top of the mesa in a rocky, grass terrain; and N407MJ's main wreckage was located in wooden terrain. The main wreckages of both helicopters came to rest approximately 300 feet apart from each other. The debris area, approximately 1/4 mile in diameter, contained fragmented sections of main rotor blades, plexiglass, and fiberglass. N407GA was partially consumed by post-impact fire and N407MJ did not a post-impact fire. N407GA experienced a secondary post-impact explosion approximately 2 minutes after the accident. Three first responders sustained minor injuries during the explosion.

At the time of the accident, the weather was reported as partly cloudy and winds were light and variable.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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