Report: Pa. medical helicopter had 'near-vertical, nose-down descent' before crash

The onboard paramedic said the helicopter rolled in the air, pinning himself and the flight nurse to the ceiling before they could secure the patient


Robert Moran
The Philadelphia Inquirer

DREXEL HILL, Pa. — The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday released a preliminary report detailing the frightening seconds before a medical helicopter crashed in Drexel Hill on Jan. 11.

The four passengers — a 2-month-old baby, nurse, medic, and pilot — survived without life-threatening injuries. The midday air ambulance flight was transporting the baby girl from WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital southwest of Harrisburg to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The cause of the accident remains under investigation.

The medical helicopter's  four passengers — a 2-month-old baby, nurse, medic, and pilot — survived without life-threatening injuries.
The medical helicopter's four passengers — a 2-month-old baby, nurse, medic, and pilot — survived without life-threatening injuries. (Photo/Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

At one point, the four-page report says, the Eurocopter EC-135 P2+ appeared in a video recorded by a doorbell camera about one mile from the crash site in a "near-vertical, nose-down descent."

The helicopter's angle of descent "shallowed" before it disappeared in the video behind a tree line, the report says.

A witness also recalled seeing the helicopter "in a nose down attitude ... and rotating around its longitudinal axis" before the crash. The longitudinal axis is the directional line of an aircraft from the front to the rear.

The flight medic on the helicopter reported hearing a "bang" and then "the helicopter banked sharply right and continued into a right roll," the report says.

"The medic said that the helicopter rolled inverted, perhaps multiple times, and that he and the nurse were 'pinned to the ceiling' and internal communication was lost," the report continues. "The helicopter was leveled, the patient was secured, the crewmembers secured themselves in their seats, and they braced for landing."

The report also noted that, "A home doorbell camera captured the last second of flight as the helicopter appeared level in the frame, in a slight nose-up attitude, as it impacted the ground, separating the tailboom, then disappeared from view."

The medic said the flight had been routine and the helicopter was about 10 minutes from CHOP before the aircraft started to experience problems.

Eventually, the helicopter crashed near the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Burmont Road, skidding to a stop on the lawn of Drexel Hill United Methodist Church. On the way down, the pilot, Danial Moore, 52, was able to avoid the surrounding homes and buildings, telephone poles, and wires.

As investigation into Drexel Hill helicopter crash continues, pastor of nearby church reflects on the 'miracle' that everyone survived.

According to the report, the initial impact point was in a 40-foot tall tree.

Moore made himself available for interview with the NTSB, but the interview was postponed due to his medical condition, the report says. Moore was hospitalized for several days at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center before returning to his home in Winchester, Va.

The helicopter wreckage was taken to an aircraft recovery facility in Clayton, Del., as part of the investigation.

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(c)2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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