Investigators: Cockpit video could shed light on Ill. air ambulance crash

The pilot was transporting a paramedic, a flight nurse and a patient from St. Mary's Medical Center to Advocate Christ Medical Center when the crash occurred

 By William Lee
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Federal investigators hope that cockpit footage from an air ambulance helicopter that crash-landed on the city's Far South Side last weekend will provide clues on exactly what went wrong with the aircraft.

The Eurocopter EC-135 air ambulance crashed on its belly in the grassy median where Interstate 57 splits, near Wentworth Avenue between 98th and 99th streets at about 9:15 p.m. on Saturday.

The pilot of the twin-engine medical aircraft was transporting a paramedic, a flight nurse and a patient from St. Mary's Medical Center in Hobart, Ind. to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn when the accident occurred, according to Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is in charge of the investigation.

Knudson confirmed that the pilot made a "mayday" call over the helicopter's radio system before the crash, but could not provide any other details. All four people on board were injured, but Knudson could not provide updates on their conditions. The original patient initially was reported to be in critical condition, while the three crew members were stable, according to the Chicago Fire Department officials.

Authorities were glad to see that the Eurocopter was equipped with a onboard surveillance, a rarity among helicopters, and it could help pinpoint the cause of the crash. NTSB investigations will focus upon the pilot, weather, communication and the aircraft itself, Knudson said.

"It's a camera that goes over the shoulder of the pilot and shows what's (happening) on the flight instruments, what the pilot is doing and what the outside environment is," Knudson said. Investigators will also rely on surveillance footage from the ground, as well as interviews from the flight's survivors.

"It's a tremendous help to investigators," Knudson said. "It's sort of unusual to have onboard cockpit video. We find it very valuable because it just brings more information to it."

The video, along with audio and parametric data from the flight was being sent to investigators, who could download the information as soon as Tuesday. The helicopter was also moved from the scene of the crash on Sunday to a facility in Poplar Grove in Boone County for examination. But Knudson cautioned that it could still take up to a year before a preliminary report is completed.

Knudson could not confirm reports by Chicago Fire Department officials praising the pilot for his quick work in landing the helicopter.

Tom and Sandra Bianciotto, who were driving to their Beverly home around dusk also credited the pilot's quick thinking with preventing a fatal crash.

"It seemed like the back end of it was (swaying) back and forth. The (helicopter) was going very erratic and then all of a sudden it took a dive down. And I told Tom 'It's going to crash!'" Sandra Bianciotto told the Tribune on Monday.

"And out of the blue sky -- a miracle -- whatever the pilot did, it shot straight back into the air. But it was still wobble wobble wobble wobble.

"It almost hit, but he saved it from hitting," Sandra Bianciotto said. "I mean it was going right to the ground, you could see it."

Copyright 2018 Chicago Tribune


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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