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April 24, 2014

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NTSB says inadequate maintenance likely cause of fatal tour helicopter crash

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AP Photo/NTSB

In this photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, investigators examine the wreckage of a sightseeing tour helicopter from Las Vegas that crashed in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada near the Hoover Dam. The Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011, crash killed the pilot and four tourists, including a couple from Kansas and a couple from New Delhi, India.

Helicopter Crash Investigation

Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy, second from right, talks with Metro Police Search and Rescue officers after viewing a helicopter crash site near Lake Mead Thursday, December 8, 2011. Five people were killed when a tour helicopter crashed near the lake Wednesday. . Launch slideshow »

Inadequate maintenance likely led to a helicopter crash that killed five people outside of Las Vegas in December 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday.

The board found a flight-control mechanism had become disconnected, rendering the aircraft uncontrollable, NTSB officials said.

Sundance Helicopters, which operated the Eurocopter AS350, had improperly reused a self-locking nut, officials said.

The sightseeing helicopter — bound for the Hoover Dam area — left McCarran International Airport in the late afternoon of Dec. 7, 2011. It crashed at 4:30 p.m. in mountains 2.5 miles south of Lake Las Vegas, killing the pilot and four passengers.

When the part became disconnected, the helicopter climbed 600 feet, turned about 90 degrees to the left, descended about 800 feet and then began a left turn before falling at least 2,500 feet per minute until impact, officials said.

In a statement, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman called the crash a “potent reminder that what happens in the maintenance hangar is just as important for safety as what happens in the air.”

Mechanics’ fatigue and lack of clear steps on a “work card” or “checklist” also contributed to an inadequate post-maintenance inspection, the NTSB said.

That finding spurred the NTSB to reiterate recommendations about maintenance documentation to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Checklists are not rocket science, but they can have astronomical benefits,” Hersman said in a statement.

Sundance Helicopters offers daily tours over the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas Strip, according to its website. The helicopter that crashed was on the company’s “Twilight City Tour,” which includes flights over the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street Experience.

Sundance Helicopters CEO Bob Engelbrecht released a statement Tuesday expressing condolences to the victims’ family members and vowing to “further improve our processes and procedures.”

“Sundance has an excellent safety records and safety is our number one priority,” Engelbrecht said in the statement. “Based upon the investigation to date and our own internal reviews, we have already initiated a number of safety improvements. We are the most experienced and long-standing helicopter tour operator in Las Vegas, and we are prepared to work with the NTSB and the FAA to continue to improve the safety of our operations.”

The five people who died were: the pilot, 31-year-old Landon Nield, of Las Vegas; Tamara and Delwin Chapman, both 49, of Utica, Kan.; and Anupama Bhola, 26, and Lovish Bhanot, 28, of New Delhi, India.

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  1. excuse me if I think your commitment to safety is very newly found, Mr. Engelbrecht. Think of the terror these folks endured over a freaking nut. Ugh. Makes me sick.