PHOENIX (AP) — A medical-helicopter crash in Tucson that killed three people likely was caused by a mechanic's mistake and the lack of an inspection and testing of his work, according to a recently released federal report.
The report by the National Transportation Safety Board, released last week, said the AS350 B3 Eurocopter had undergone maintenance over several days before the July 28, 2010, crash.
The report, the results of which were first reported by The Arizona Daily Star on Tuesday, says a contract mechanic likely only finger-tightened bolts, instead of using a torque wrench, when he was putting the engine back together. Maintenance personnel did not adequately inspect his work and the pilot who performed a post-maintenance check didn't follow the manufacturer's procedures, the report said.
The LifeNet helicopter left Marana and was en route to its home base in Douglas when it fell 600 feet in eight seconds, crashed into a backyard fence and burst into flames about six minutes after leaving the ground.
The crash was in a densely populated area of Tucson but no one on the ground was injured.
Killed were pilot Alexander Kelley, 61, flight nurse Parker Summons, 41, both of Tucson, and paramedic Brenda French, 28, of Safford.
Tracey Budz, a spokeswoman for LifeNet Arizona's parent company — Colorado-based Air Methods — did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday morning.
The report does not specify whether Kelley was the pilot who improperly performed the post-maintenance check, or whether a different pilot performed it.
The check was supposed to take 35 to 40 minutes, but the pilot's check took just seven and a half minutes, the report said.
If a full check was done, the report said the problem that caused the crash likely would have been detected.
In addition, the contract mechanic who put the helicopter's engine back together "was serving as both mechanic and inspector, and he inspected his own work."
The report also says that Kelley, who had 14,000 hours of flight experience, had no training flights for nearly a year before the crash.
Although Kelley was not required to undergo additional training during that time, the report said it "may have negatively impacted the pilot's ability to maintain proficiency."
"However, because the engine failed suddenly at low altitude over a congested area, more recent training may not have changed the outcome," the report said.
The report said Kelley likely was trying to get the chopper to an open intersection about 300 feet away from the crash site, but was unable to reach it because he had to maneuver over a row of 40-foot power lines — a maneuver that depleted the engine and caused the helicopter's near-vertical plummet.