HERTFORD — A year after a medical helicopter crashed in Perquimans County, killing three crew members and a passenger, there are some indications why the incident happened.
On Sept. 8, 2017, the Duke Life Flight helicopter crashed in a field in Belvidere while transporting a patient from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center to Duke Hospital in Durham. Prior to the crash, eyewitnesses reported seeing smoke coming from the rear of the helicopter.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report soon after the crash. It hinted that a lubrication problem might be at fault. The rear turbine shaft on the helicopter’s No. 2 engine showed signs of “overheating and lack of lubrication” and a key bearing was worn down, the report stated.
NTSB officials said at the time of the crash that could be a year or more before the final report is released.
However, a lawsuit filed late last year blames the manufacturers of the helicopter and its engine for the crash.
Attorneys for the family of one of the flight nurses killed in the crash, Kristopher Harrison, and the family of the patient who died, Mary Bartlett, filed a lawsuit in December, alleging the crash could have been prevented.
The families of the helicopter’s pilot, Jeff Burke, and the other nurse killed in the crash, Crystal Sollinger, have not joined the lawsuit.
One of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit, Gary Robb, points to an “special airworthiness information bulletin” published by the Federal Aviation Administration that suggests a link between the Duke Life Flight helicopter crash in Perquimans County and another helicopter incident in South Dakota on Jan. 26, 2017. According to Robb, both incidents involved the same Airbus model helicopter and may have been caused by a blocked oil line.
Robb could not be reached for comment for this story.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from Safran Helicopter Engines, a French corporation that manufactured the engines of the downed helicopter; its U.S. distributor, Safran USA, Inc.; the aircraft manufacturer, Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH, a German firm; and its U.S. distributor, Airbus Helicopters Inc.
The lawsuits further names as defendants Burke’s estate, and Air Methods Corp., the Colorado-based contractor that Duke University Health System hired to operate the Life Flight program. Air Methods provides the pilots and mechanics for Duke’s Life Flight program.
According to the NTSB, Burke held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for rotorcraft-helicopter and instrument-helicopter. His most recent second class medical certificate was issued in October 2016, at which time he reported 4,362 total hours of flight experience. According to Air Methods’ records, Burke had been employed with Air Methods Corp. since August 2009 and accrued 1,027 hours of flight time in the same make and model as the Airbus helicopter that crashed. The NTSB also said the Airbus helicopter that crashed in Perquimans was built in 2011.
Perquimans County Sheriff Shelby White said in the weeks following the crash, NTSB officials made a number of visits to the county. However, there haven’t been any recently, he said.