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National Transportation Safety Board releases preliminary report on Mercy Flight helicopter crash

Posted at 2:22 PM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 14:22:06-04

TOWN OF ELBA, N.Y. (WKBW) — On April 26 two people were killed when a Mercy Flight helicopter crashed in the Town of Elba in Genesee County.

The victims were identified as James Sauer and Stewart Dietrick. Both were 60-years-old. Sauer was an Afghanistan War veteran, a New York State Police civilian pilot and a pilot in the Army National Guard. He lived in Churchville. Dietrich was a Bell Helicopter flight instructor from Texas.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary report on the crash Wednesday.

According to the report, it was an instructional flight being conducted by the helicopter manufacturer’s flight instructor with multiple flight reviews planned throughout the day and the crash was the second flight of the day. The report says a witness observed the helicopter “almost stationary” and heard a loud “bang” as it began to fly away and then the helicopter began to descend out of control. Another witness said the helicopter was hovering before it “fell apart."

The report says the wreckage path was about 1,900 ft long and oriented in a direction of 250 degrees and described the wreckage as follows:

  • The tail boom, containing the tail rotor, drive shaft, vertical fin and horizontal stabilizer remained largely intact and was discovered about 390 ft from the main wreckage, on a heading of about 075°. A section of the tail boom and carbon fiber tail rotor shaft was discovered 1,620 ft and 072° from the main wreckage; it exhibited an angled fracture line consistent with main rotor blade contact.
  • All four main rotor blades were separated from the main rotor head and discovered within 550 ft northwest of the main wreckage. The span of all four blades were recovered. The cyclic and collective push-pull tubes were traced to their respective control inputs and actuators. Fractures in the system were consistent with overload. Control continuity was confirmed for both collective and cyclic controls.
  • The main rotor drive system gear box remained partially attached to the airframe with both left and right longitudinal pitch restraints separated from their respective stops. Both input driveshafts could be manually rotated counterclockwise in the freewheeling direction but could not be manually rotated in the clockwise direction, likely due to impact damage.
  • The tail rotor input controls were physically actuated confirming control continuity. The tail rotor drive shaft remained connected to the main gearbox but was fractured about midway to blower.
  • Both engines were located within the main wreckage. Examination revealed damage consistent with impact damage. The engine switches in the cockpit located in the center below the glareshield exhibited minor deformation. The No. 1 engine switch was undamaged and functioned smoothly. It was discovered in the “OFF” position. The No. 2 engine switch was slightly bent and was discovered in the “ON” position.
  • Multiple electronic recording devices were removed from the wreckage and retained for download of the non-volatile memory. The remaining wreckage was retained for further examination.