Witnesses saw the tail and main rotor separate from the CareFlite helicopter the afternoon of June 2, according to a recently released preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report.
Pilot Guy del Giudice, 44, and mechanic Stephen Durler, 23, were taking CareFlite’s newly purchased Bell 222 helicopter for another round of test flights when something went wrong.
The main rotor system was found about 200 feet from the main fuselage, which fell to the ground and burst into flames on impact, investigators wrote.
“The entire tail boom assembly separated just aft of the fuselage and impacted terrain approximately 400 feet northeast of the main wreckage,” the report reads.
Investigators will scour the wreckage in hopes of finding out what exactly caused that rotor and tail to separate from the main cabin of the chopper.
The pilot and a mechanic were the only two people aboard the medical helicopter.
CareFlite reported the helicopter had been bought in the last six months and had never been used to transport a patient. The company said it was still working on the aircraft to make sure it was safe.
A company spokesman said he didn't know which systems the crew had been working on prior to the test flight. CareFlite said it is working with authorities to determine what factors may have contributed to it.
The Bell 222U is a modified version of the twin-engine 222 with the principal difference being that the 222U has a landing skid instead of retractable wheels. With the skid, the fuselage can be modified to carry more fuel. The 222U was in production from 1983 to 1995, according to articles published on Wikipedia.
There are no major recent airworthiness directives issued by the FAA for Bell 222U Aircraft.
Also, according to an NBCDFW analysis of online NTSB data, there have been at least 15 reported crashes involving Bell 222U aircraft since 1983.
Of those crashes, six were operator-error, four were weather-related and five were mechanical-related.
At least four other reported incidents didn't result in a crash, in addition to another incident in Kingston, Jamaica. The Jamaica file notes did not have any specificity as to the nature of that incident.
On Sept. 7, 2003, a rotor blade separated from a Bell 222U aircraft. Three people died in that medical helicopter crash in Nipton, Calif.
NTSB Pushes for Improving Safety of EMS Flights
(from March 25, 2010)
Improving the safety of emergency medical services flights has been on the National Transportation Safety Board's "most wanted improvements" list since 2008, a year when the industry suffered a record number of fatalities.
Forty-one people were killed in 11 EMS helicopter accidents between December 2007 and February 2010, according to an NTSB report.
It said the pressure that crews face to respond quickly during difficult flight conditions, such as darkness or bad weather, has led to increased fatal accidents.
"What you see happen a lot is, you have aircraft that are being used in very difficult conditions -- a lot of times in the middle of the night, weather is bad and things like that -- and you push them into sort of dangerous situations, and crashes occur," said Kent Krause, a Dallas aviation attorney.
"You also may not have pilots that are as trained as they may be either in the military or some other areas, and then also whether the people operating the helicopters really have the wherewithal, the financial resources, to maintain the helicopters properly so that they operate properly," Krause said.
Last fall, the NTSB urged the government to impose stricter controls on emergency helicopter operators, including requiring the use of autopilots, night-vision systems and flight data recorders.
NBC DFW's Frank Heinz and Kevin Cokely contributed to this report.