Engine Problems Likely In Lake Mead Helicopter Cash That Took Five Lives


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Engine Problems Likely In Lake Mead Helicopter Cash That Took Five Lives

By Jim Douglas

December 10, 2011 - On Wednesday evening, approximately 4:45 PM, a Eurocopter AS350B2, N37SH, owned by Sundance Helicopters of Las Vegas crashed killing all five people onboard. The Eurocopter went down in the River Mountains bordering Lake Mead in a V-shaped canyon about 150 feet deep, 16 miles east of Las Vegas. 

Sundance Helicopters, Inc. a daily helicopter tour operator was conducting a tour, 30-minute "Twilight City Tour" of the Las Vegas Strip and Hoover Dam which is located at Lake Mead, and is located near Boulder City, Nevada. Onboard were the pilot, Landon Nield, 31, and four passengers. 

It?s unclear what caused this deadly crash. Sundance Helicopters CEO, Larry Pietropaolo, reported that the pilot did not make a distress call before a GPS monitoring the location of the helicopter went silent.

Pietropaolo further stated the pilot was hired three years ago, a solid pilot and a very nice young man. Sundance reported the company flew 167,182 passengers during the first 10 months of this year, nearly 17,000 per month. The wife of the pilot, Gabriela Orozco stated her husband had flown for over seven years, "he was a good pilot," and "he loved what he was doing. His dream was to be a pilot." The flight was conducted under clear skies with winds at 5 MPH with temperatures around 29 degrees. The French made helicopter, AS350 B2, which was manufactured in 1989 is a higher gross weight version of the AS350 and is powered a single engine. 

Due to the terrain, emergency personnel were not able to reach the crash site until Thursday, mid morning. The recovery efforts were complicated by the remoteness of the rugged canyon and were only accessible by helicopter and four-wheel-drive terrain vehicles. On Friday the NTSB arrived at the crash site.  

Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy reported on Thursday night that all five bodies had been recovered from the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. "This was not an easy process," said Murphy. Murphy further stated the bodies were not easily recognizable and he could not release the names of the dead until medical examiners made positive identification and that the process may involve the use of DNA, fingerprint and dental records. However, a couple that was onboard was identified by a relative. The relative reported the couple, Delwin and Tamara Chapman of Utica, Kansas was celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. The couple went to Las Vegas to celebrate their anniversary and renew their wedding vows.


On the day of the crash Nevada Senator Harry Reid stated ?My thoughts this morning are with the families of the five people who died in a terrible crash yesterday.  Hundreds of thousands of tourists enjoy these popular helicopter tours of Nevada each year, and I?m saddened that people lost their lives in this rare tragedy.

?I am grateful for the efforts of National Park Service rangers, Metro Police?s Search and Rescue and the Clark County and Henderson fire departments, who responded to the scene.  I will continue to monitor the investigation being performed by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board and will do everything I can to ensure that helicopter tours remain safe.? 

National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said on Friday "Up to the last minute, it was all standard tour operating procedure. At the last minute, things changed. We don't know Why?? Rosekind also stated moments before the crash the pilot made a sudden climb and sharp turns. The Eurocopter had been in for maintenance to replace the engine and actuators in the tail and main rotor. 

Initial examination of the engine at the scene showed the engine was producing power at the time of the crash.  All the servo-actuators, were removed from the wreckage on Friday and will be examined by the FAA and NTSB. Most of the helicopter was consumed by fire. Investigators are reviewing the pilot, aircraft and maintenance records.

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