No recording devices were on board the Sundance tour helicopter that crashed Wednesday and killed the pilot and four passengers, leaving investigators to continue sifting through maintenance records and witness interviews in search of the cause of the accident.
National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said crews would wrap up the on-scene investigation today, but said an analysis into what went wrong could take months. A preliminary report will be available by Dec 20.
On Monday, crews will begin removing wreckage from the site, a remote rugged canyon west of Lake Mead. A helicopter equipped with nets will be used to fetch the parts from the 2.7-square-mile scene set in a V-shaped ravine that winds down 30 feet at its deepest point, chief NTSB investigator Bill English said.
The victims were not easily recognizable, and the Clark County coroner's office is still working to identify two passengers through medical records provided by their family members in New Delhi, county officials said.
The three other victims, the pilot, 31-year-old Landon Nield of Las Vegas, and 49-year-old passengers Delwin and Tamara Chapman, a Utica, Kan., couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, were identified by the coroner's office Saturday. They died of multiple blunt force trauma and suffered thermal injuries in the fiery crash, according to the coroner's report.
Sundance Helicopters Inc., which operated the tour aircraft, enforces a safety management system beyond federal requirements, and those policies are under examination, Rosekind said. It is unclear whether the Sundance Helicopters internal safety system requires its fleet to have recording devices on board, but the devices are not mandated federally and the tour chopper that crashed did not have one. Aircraft recorders can be the most helpful resources in determining causes of crashes and are key in issuing safety recommendations to prevent future accidents, Rosekind said.
So far, investigators have determined that the day before it crashed, the AS350 helicopter underwent routine 100-hour flight maintenance, a check that resulted in the engine and two mechanical control devices called actuators being replaced because of lifetime limits on the parts, Rosekind said.
After the work, the aircraft completed a maintenance flight and two tours before crashing during a 40-minute "twilight tour" that was scheduled to loop from McCarran International Airport over the neon-lit Strip to Hoover Dam and back.
When investigators separated the engine from the wreckage Friday, an initial examination indicated it was producing power at the time of impact, Rosekind said. The parts are still under review, and France's aviation investigators have been called in to help in that process since the aircraft is of French origin.
NTSB has interviewed the passengers who toured on the chopper before the deadly flight as well as the pilot's wife, although what resulted of those conversations has not been released.
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