NTSB investigates medical chopper crash that killed 3 - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

NTSB investigates medical chopper crash that killed 3

NTSB investigator Ralph Hicks has more than 25 years of experience investigating aircraft crashes. NTSB investigator Ralph Hicks has more than 25 years of experience investigating aircraft crashes.
The wreckage is confined within an area of about 100 feet diameter in a confined wreckage path, according to Hicks. The wreckage is confined within an area of about 100 feet diameter in a confined wreckage path, according to Hicks.

(WMC-TV) - The National Transportation Safety Board began their investigation Tuesday afternoon into the medical helicopter crash that killed three people near Somerville.

NTSB investigator Ralph Hicks, who traveled to Tennessee from Atlanta, has more than 25 years of experience investigating aircraft crashes.

"This is the field phase of the investigation. The fact-finding part of the investigation," said Hicks. "We'll be here four or five days in Tennessee."

Hospital Wing pilot Charles Smith, Pedi-Flite nurse Carrie Barlow, and Pedi-Flite respiratory therapist Denise Adams were on their way to pick up a patient from a hospital in Bolivar when the helicopter went down near Somerville, TN.

"During the flight, about 20 minutes into the flight is when the accident occurred," explained Hicks.

Investigator Hicks took a preliminary walk through of the crash site Tuesday afternoon. He said the helicopter appears to be confined to a relatively small area.

"What I see so far is about 90 percent of the helicopter is destroyed by impact forces and a post-crash fire," he said. "I don't see any missing parts. One of the things we look for is to make sure all the rotor blades are there, the tail rotor, the tail bloom, the cockpit, all those areas are within the area of the main wreckage and they appear to be at this point."

Everything is confined within an area of about 100 feet diameter in a confined wreckage path, according to Hicks. In addition to making sure all of the helicopter's pieces are accounted for, investigators will take a close look at the weather and speak to several witnesses.

"There's a lot of things we look at. We look at the man, the machine, and the environment, all three," said Hicks.

Because of the heavy damage to the helicopter, the investigation could be complicated. Hicks explained that NTSB has techniques they use to go through the evidence and look at the parts that remain to find out what caused the crash.

"What we'll do is take the wreckage piece by piece, go through every piece of it, look at it, examine it, try to rule things out. But we're very early for that. Anything that's provided by witnesses, we take the information down and we collect it all, put it together at the end and see what makes sense," he said.

So far, Hicks is not aware of any distress calls that may have come in from the flight crew. He is still learning about the history of this specific aircraft, a Eurocopter AS350.

"We'll go through all the maintenance records, the history of the aircraft, going back to when it was built and going through that page by page," said Hicks explaining the process. "We're going to spend the first two days primarily here at the accident site going through the accident scene documenting all the evidence, photographs, looking at the parts."

In addition to their investigation, NTSB wants to hear from anyone who may have heard or seen the helicopter go down.

"Of course, if anybody hears anything, we like to know names and telephone numbers of anyone we can talk to and spend some time with," Hicks added.

Though Ralph Hicks' mission is to find out what caused the medical helicopter to crash, he is also thinking about the victims and their families as he conducts his investigation.

"Our condolences go out to the families of the crew members in this accident," he said. "Of course, our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time."

If you have information that might help NTSB investigate the helicopter crash, contact Ray Garcia at Fayette County Sheriff's Office at (901) 826-9658.

Copyright 2013 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.

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