NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Deadly Delta-Area Helicopter Crash

The helicopter that crashed two weeks ago in a remote spot near the Pogo gold mine, killing the pilot, reportedly had touched down on a primitive helipad before it pitched up, apparently out-of-control, then hit some nearby trees and rolled down a hillside.

The account of the fatal crash was contained in a preliminary report on the accident that the National Transportation Safety Board released late Monday night.

The report states that an eyewitness told an NTSB investigator that he saw the helicopter set down on a remote helipad at about 4:30 p.m. Aug. 7. The witness said he had radioed the pilot to request a pickup and was kneeling beside the helipad, watching for the pilot to give the signal to board. He said the helicopter suddenly pitched up, then backward, before striking trees at the edge of the helipad and rolling down a steep slope.

The crash killed 63-year-old James Hopper, a Missouri resident who was flying the McDonnell Douglas MD 600N for Aurora Aviation Services. The Delta-based company was contracted by Pogo to ferry personnel and supplies to the site that was being explored for gold-mining potential.

Pogo is located in an isolated area about 38 miles northeast of Delta.

The NTSB report states that another witness told investigators that he ran toward the crash site after hearing a loud screeching noise and then an impact. The witness said he ran by the helipad, which was built of logs nailed together with long spikes, and noticed a log on one side of the helipad that was jutting upward. He said a spike that had attached the log to the foundation was dislodged.

Investigators emphasized that the report was preliminary and would be followed by a more-detailed final report.

The NTSB investigation continues. The State Medical Examiner’s office report on an autopsy conducted on the pilot is expected to be released later this month.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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