A man who saw a medical helicopter crash into a field near Kingfisher Thursday night told federal investigators the aircraft was “descending in an abnormal fashion” before it hit the ground and burst into flames, killing two of three people on board.
“His testimony was that it appeared to be out of control,” National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jason Aguilera told reporters Friday afternoon.
The helicopter was flying from Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City to Okeene Hospital to pick up a patient when it crashed shortly before 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“An eyewitness spotted the helicopter descending in an abnormal fashion,” Aguilera said.
Pilot Alan Dale Harrison, 56, of Edmond, and nurse Ryan Marshall Duke, 35, of Oklahoma City, died in the crash, according to a statement issued Friday by EagleMed LLC, the Wichita, Kan.-based company that operates the A-Star 350 helicopter.
Paramedic Michael Eccard, 34, of Edmond, survived the crash and was in serious condition at University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City, hospital spokesman Allen Poston said.
According to an Oklahoma Highway Patrol report, the eyewitness reported at 7:25 p.m. the helicopter was “rotating out of control and went down.”
Kingfisher Mayor Jack Stuteville said he arrived at the scene not long after the crash after a farmer told him he saw the helicopter spinning and then crash into the remote field, about 50 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.
“By the time I got there it was already burned to pieces,” Stuteville said. “The bodies were charred beyond recognition. It was bad.”
He saw Eccard about 50 yards from the crash site.
“I still don’t know how he did it. He must have bailed out just before it hit the ground ... there was no way he could have crawled that far,” Stuteville said.
Stuteville said Eccard was conscious and talking when an ambulance crew arrived and he showed no obvious signs of burn injuries.
On Friday, OHP troopers barred access to the crash site so investigators could gather evidence. The investigation initially will focus on the pilot’s flight records, maintenance records of the helicopter and weather conditions at the time, Aguilera said.
Oklahoma Climatological Survey’s Mesonet site near Kingfisher showed wind gusts of 30-35 mph near the time of the crash.
“We can start eliminating what did not happen so we can come up with a probable cause,” he said.
It will be between six and nine months before an initial report on the crash is prepared by NTSB, Aguilera said. Findings will be compared to other crashes of similar helicopters to determine if there is a trend.
Members of Federal Aviation Administration also were contacted after the crash.
“The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash because it is a fatality accident and the FAA will be part of that team,” said Lynn Lunsford, an FAA spokesman for Southwest Regional Operations Center in Fort Worth.
Aguilera said EagleMed’s safety record also will be reviewed as part of the investigation.
A spokesman for the helicopter’s manufacturer, Eurocopter, with headquarters in France and American offices in Grand Prairie, Texas, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Staff writer Cass Rains and The Associated Press contributed to this story.