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Fri, Jan 21, 2005

NTSB Examines Similarities In Air Ambulance Mishaps

Both Impacted Ridges On Final

NTSB investigators looking into the crash of an air ambulance on approach to the airport in Rawlings, WY, last week say they're struck by the similarities between that accident and another air ambulance mishap in Colorado in 2003. "We are looking for common threads," said investigator David Bowling. He told the Denver Post there could be an issue of pilot preparation.

Consider: the aircraft that went down in Rawlings and the one that crashed near Kremmling, CO, in 2003 involved the same company, Mountain Flight Services. Both were Beechcraft King Air E-90s (file photo of type, above). Both impacted ridges during snowstorm.

In the January 11th mishap on approach to Rawlings, pilot Tim Benway, 35, flight nurse Dave Linner, 36, and nurse Jennifer Wells, 30, were killed. Paramedic Tim Baldwin, 35, survived the accident and used his cell phone to guide rescuers to the crash scene.

In the March 19, 2003, accident, the entire crew survived. Bowling is reportedly in charge of that investigation as well.

In that incident, paramedic Dotsy Gigliotti told the Rocky Mountain News the pilot made an unusual approach to the runway at Kremmling. "He saw white, but he thought it was fog. He forgot about the butte."

Indeed, the NTSB finding of probable cause in that accident stated:

The pilot reported that he maneuvered for a left hand downwind leg for landing from the east to west. The pilot set up his downwind leg at 8,400 feet mean sea level putting him at what would have been 1,000 feet above the airport elevation of 7,411 feet.

The pilot reported it was very dark and he could see the airport, but could not see the terrain. The pilot reported that suddenly he saw the ground. The airplane impacted the terrain and came to rest. The pilot reported that the airplane was experiencing no malfunctions prior to the accident. The airplane accident site was on the snow-covered edge of a mountain ridge at an elevation of 8,489 feet.

An examination of the airplane's systems revealed no anomalies. Published terminal procedures for the runway indicated high terrain of 8,739 feet south-southeast of the airport. The published airport diagram for the airport directs right traffic for the pattern to runway 27.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows: the pilot's improper in-flight planning and his failure to maintain safe clearance from the high terrain. Factors contributing to the accident were the high terrain and the dark night.

In last week's mishap, Bowling said pilot Benway activated the runway lights and was gear down when the aircraft impacted the ridge. "There were low clouds, low visibility and freezing rain," he told the Rocky Mountain News. "We don't know what he saw. And that's what we are trying to determine."

Did Benway know what he was getting into at Rawlings (right)? Yes, said Mountain Flight Services Administrator Cindy Maddox. "There is no question but that the charts, the approach plates, all of the information was available to him," she said. "I know a pilot briefing was done on this one.

"We have attempted to do everything in our power to operate in a safe and compliant manner," she said. "We will be absolutely grateful to know any answers as to the cause of this tragic accident."

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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