Witnesses Estimated Visibility At 1/8-Mile
The NTSB's preliminary report on the December 14 crash of a
Bell 407 helicopter (file photo of type below) in
Dagsboro, DE says the pilot, Alisa Howell, took off at night in a
thickening fog. Both Howell and her passenger Joshua Freeman were
killed in the crash.
The report says Freeman contacted HeloAir Inc. requesting
passenger service from his private residence to Washington Dulles
with a stop enroute. Howell picked Freeman up at 12:30 local and
flew him to a golf course in Ocean View, DE. She then took the
chopper to a local airport and refueled it. She was to return to
the golf course at 17:30 to take Freeman to Washington Dulles.
According to the report, Howell held a commercial pilot
certificate with a rating for rotorcraft helicopter. She also held
a flight instructor certificate with a rating for rotorcraft
helicopter. Her most recent FAA second class medical certificate
was issued on April 28, 2006, and on that date, she reported 2,800
total hours of flight experience.
At 1700 witnesses reported seeing the chopper flying near the
accident site at 75 feet over the trees. They said they observed
the aircraft disappear in fog then reappear traveling in the
At 17:15 Howell set down in a farm field near the golf course.
The property owner notified the State Police who arrived on the
scene and questioned Howell. She said she couldn't get to the golf
course to pick up Freeman because of the fog and was waiting for
him in the field instead.
Another witness working about 800 feet from the accident site
watched the departure. He says he heard the engine start and went
outside to watch the takeoff. The helicopter climbed vertically to
a height just above nearby trees and utility lines, the hovered for
a moment. While hovering, the landing light turned on, off, on, and
off again. The helicopter then pitched nose down and began to
The witness said he expected to see the helicopter climb as he
had seen others do in the past. Instead, the accident helicopter
just accelerated forward in a shallow descent until it impacted the
ground. The witness reported the engine sound as smooth and
continuous. He said at the time of the accident it was dark, the
fog was dense, and that it thickened throughout the evening. When
attempting to get to the accident site to render aid, he said he
couldn't find his way and had to go back to his work site for a
An off-duty firefighter who heard the crash and notified
authorities before responding to the scene. He estimated the
visibility at 1/8 mile or less in fog.
NTSB investigators could find no evidence of damage to trees or
utility lines near the accident site which was just under 1,100
feet from the departure point.
The chopper was substantially damaged, but investigators were
able to determine its drivetrain and flight controls were all
operating normally prior to the crash. Evidence of fuel was found
near the crash site. The NTSB retained the engine and engine
control unit for further testing.
At 18:01, Sussex County Airport located 11 nm from the accident
site reported visibility 3 miles in mist with temperature 46
degrees and dewpoint 45 degrees Fahrenheit. At 18:40, the
visibility had dropped to 1 1/4 miles in mist. Evening civil
twilight ended at 17:10 local.