The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

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Rough landing: helicopter loses power during liftoff

Owners say rigorous training and high standards saved the day - and lives


Valdez Star photo

No injuries were reported after this helicopter lost power during liftoff.

Pilot skill and training is being credited for the lack of injuries in last Wednesday's rough helicopter landing in Valdez.

"He (the pilot) did a really good job," said Leigh Coates, the chief pilot for Vertical Solutions, the company that owns and operates the helicopter.

Coates, who did not identify the pilot, said the helicopter was lifting up and was approximately 25 feet in the air when it lost power. Onboard were two employees of Copper Valley Electric Association, CVEA.

"...two CVEA employees were involved in a helicopter crash at the Valdez Airport as they were taking off to perform an aerial patrol of the transmission line," CVEA spokeswoman Sharon Crisp said in a press release issued that day.

Coates said the pilot reported the helicopter was approximately 25 feet in the air when it lost power.

The FAA website description of the incident says "...rotarcraft landed hard and the tail boom separated..."

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been to Valdez to investigate the incident according the Mike Williams, the company's director of operations.

"The NTSB has started their investigation," he said in an interview with Coates Monday evening. "They should have their report in the next five days."

Both Coates and Williams said it is still unknown why the power went out on the helicopter.

"Their investigation is ongoing as to the cause," Williams said.

The helicopter is Robinson R44, Raven II and is one of the company's newer acquisitions.

"It's powered by a 540 engine," Williams said, and is the same type of helicopter used by the company, which had a fleet of three before Wednesday's accident. "It's a 2014 model year and it's still covered by the factory warranty."

Medical exams were given to the helicopter's occupants to be on the safe side, but no injuries were reported.

A press release issued by the City of Valdez reported no damages to the airport or the runway.

"No EMS/Fire assistance requested or appeared to be needed. Police officer dispatched to ensure scene safety and confirm report of the incident," said the press release, issued by Allie Hendrickson, the city's deputy city clerk. "No reported injuries. No reported damage to airport property or tarmac. No reported impact to aircraft traffic at the airport."

Vertical Solutions said the pilot is back behind the control panels of another helicopter and remains with the company.

Coates said the outcome of the incident - no injuries or loss of life - was a testimony to the training and proficiency of the pilot.

"We probably do more training than anyone," Williams added.

Coates agreed.

Valdez Star photo

Clean up efforts were underway a few hours after the mishap, which did not impede airport traffic.

"We operate at higher standards than the FAA demands of us," she said, adding that Vertical Solutions regularly trains at what she called "autorotation," the technical term for landing a helicopter without power.

The pilot used other skills to come back to earth, as landing without power during a liftoff is one of the most dangerous situations a pilot can face according to Coates.

"He wasn't high enough to enter an autorotation," she said.

This is the only such incident reported in the company's five years of operation in Valdez.

"We've had a perfect safety record until now," Coates said.


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