Pilot accused of ‘poor judgment’ in fatal chopper crash
By ANDREW SCHOTZ
A helicopter pilot’s “poor judgment” in flying on a stormy night over mountainous terrain apparently caused a July 2009 crash that killed four people, including the pilot, a federal report says.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s probable cause report, posted Oct. 6, says the pilot embarked on a visual-flight-rules flight at night and the helicopter clipped a guy wire before crashing.
Under visual flight rules, pilots must be able to see where they’re going.
The pilot was identified in the report only as 24 years old, but officials previously said it was Jeffrey D. Nordaas of Columbia, Md.
Nordaas and three passengers — Kim R. Felix, 48, of New Market, Md., Niall R.Y. Booth, 43, also of New Market, and George H. Tutor Jr., 39, of Westminster, Md. — were killed in the July 23, 2009, crash.
Nordaas and Tutor were employees of Advanced Helicopter Concepts, a flight-training company based at Frederick (Md.) Municipal Airport, The Herald-Mail has reported. Booth was directing a charity event for a nonprofit organization affiliated with the helicopter company and Felix had flown with the group to an event at Hagerstown Regional Airport.
Nordaas was giving rides in a Robinson R44 helicopter in conjunction the event.
The NTSB’s written account of the crash says the helicopter arrived at Hagerstown Regional Airport from Frederick Municipal Airport at about 6:15 p.m., almost two hours late, because of bad weather.
At about 8 p.m., Nordaas, Felix, Booth and Tutor attempted to go back to Frederick, but returned to the Hagerstown Regional Airport terminal because of poor weather conditions, according to the NTSB report.
A co-worker who lived near the Frederick airport told Nordaas by phone at about 9 p.m. that weather conditions were “‘miserable,’ with severe thunderstorms,” the report says.
At about 10 p.m., the same co-worker offered to drive the helicopter occupants to Frederick, but Nordaas declined and instead tried to fly the group back, the report says.
“Given that the helicopter was only certified to be operated under visual flight rules, the pilot exercised poor judgment when he chose to fly back to FDK (Frederick Municipal Airport) in dark night and adverse weather conditions,” the report says.
During the last two minutes before it crashed, the helicopter was flying at about 1,100 feet where the terrain rises from about 600 to 1,200 feet, the report says.
“A witness observed the helicopter fly into clouds and reverse direction just before impact,” the report says.
The NTSB previously released a preliminary report a week after the crash and a factual report on July 26, 2010.
A rescue worker searches the area around the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed July 23 on Interstate 70 east of Hagerstown. Four people onboard were killed. (Credit: File Photo / )
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