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Crash probe may take year

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From staff reports

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The outcome of the federal probe into what caused the recent crash of a Duke Life Flight helicopter in Perquimans County could take about a year to complete.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Terry Williams said Monday the agency will look for not only the cause but any contributing factors to the crash. The crash occurred late Friday morning and claimed the lives of three Duke Life Flight crew members and one hospital patient.

The helicopter was en route in sunny conditions from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City to Duke University Hospital in Durham when the rotary aircraft went down in a field near Belvidere.

Williams said Monday it is standard procedure for NTSB investigations of aircraft calamities to take approximately a year to complete. "We look at everything from the pilot's records and maintenance records, the weather and basically wherever the investigation takes us," he said.

Williams emphasized the NTSB is still in the early stages of the investigation or what he said his agency refers to as a "fact-gathering phase."

Williams said two NTSB investigators arrived in Perquimans County from Washington, D.C., Friday evening and left Sunday. He said the investigation will go through many different stages of review by officials at NTSB headquarters before the final report is complete.

He said the NTSB’s next step is to issue a preliminary report, which will be comprised of information gathered in the early stages of the investigation. The preliminary report will include the location and time of the crash, along with the weather conditions and possibly details based on interviews with witnesses, he said.

The preliminary report will be posted on the NTSB's website in approximately a week, he said. However, he said the majority of information in the preliminary report will be comprised of what's already publicly known and what's been reported by the news media.

Meantime, authorities and officials have not released the deceased patient's identity.

Williams said the NTSB doesn't release the names of persons involved in transportation accidents or incidents. "That's done by the local authorities," he said.

Sarah Avery, a spokeswoman for Duke Health, cited federal law protecting patient privacy rights in declining to provide the deceased patient's identity Monday evening.

Amanda Martin, an attorney for the N.C. Press Association in Raleigh, indicated Monday evening the deceased patient’s identity should available from local law enforcement.

Perquimans County Sheriff Shelby White, in an email Monday afternoon, said he was told by an NTSB investigator the federal agency is handling the investigation and everything associated with the probe. White said he's uncertain why the NTSB is putting the matter of the deceased patient's identity back on him.

"Duke was the one giving the name out of the patient along with the crew," White said. "I know the name is out in multiple places, but I don’t want it coming from me."

White maintained, “I was told NTSB was handling everything."

Duke University Hospital on Saturday released the names of the three flight crew members killed as a result of the crash. They include pilot Jeff Burke and flight nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger. 

Duke University Hospital at the time cited consent of the three crew members' families in providing the trio's names.

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