NTSB: Ice found on wings
Steamboat Springs — The National Transportation Safety Board suspects ice found on the Yampa Valley Air Ambulance played a role in the Jan. 11 crash that killed three crew members in Rawlins, Wyo.
David Bowling from the NTSB said investigators found clear ice on the wings, tail, landing gear and propellers of the 1978 Beechcraft King Air E-90 turbo prop plane operated by Mountain Flight Service.
The three-day investigation at the Rawlins crash site found that ice was on the plane at the time of the accident. How much ice and how large of a role it played in the crash is being determined, Bowling said.
“Certainly weather is going to play a factor,” Bowling said. “But we really can’t stand on that just yet.”
The Yampa Valley Air Ambulance went down at about 9:45 p.m. Jan. 11 about 2.5 miles northeast of the Rawlins Municipal Airport. The flight crew left Steamboat Springs and was en route to pick up a patient from the Carbon County Hospital.
Pilot Tim Benway, 35, was killed in the crash. Also killed were air ambulance director and flight nurse Dave Linner, 36, and flight nurse Jennifer Wells, 30.
The sole survivor of the crash, Tim Baldwin, a 35-year-old emergency medical technician, remains in fair condition at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.
The NTSB is continuing its investigation of the accident from Greeley, where the wreckage has been taken. Bowling said the board will study what the weather was like that night and how much ice the aircraft could handle. Arriving at the site 18 hours after the crash, NTSB officials were unsure how much ice had been on the plane at the time of the accident.
Different parts of the aircraft will be shipped across the country and to Canada for performance tests, Bowling said.
“It will give us precise measurements, real accurate detail. We can use it to reconstruct what actually happened in this flight,” he said.
Bob Maddox, co-owner of Mountain Flight Service, said icing is not abnormal while flying in the mountains and that his airplanes and pilots were prepared for it. The large Beechcraft King Air is designed to handle ice, which is one of the reasons his company used the plane, he said.
“Those airplanes are very well built, stable, (and) had the ability to shed ice,” he said. “If ice was a contributing factor, it had to be something unusual, more than typical.”
The pilot also didn’t have any knowledge of extremely icy conditions, Maddox said. Three other pilots — including Maddox — reviewed the flight information Benway received before flying to Rawlins, and all said they would have made the flight as well, he said.
Maddox said a Casper, Wyo., air ambulance was flying to Rawlins to pick up the patient until it received a call from a more critical patient that needed transport.
“There was no report of any kind of icing preflight. Had we known there was severe icing, we wouldn’t have gone,” Maddox said.
The NTSB preliminary statement indicated that the weather at Rawlins Municipal Airport at the time of the accident included a few clouds at 500 feet above ground level, scattered clouds at 900 feet above ground level and an overcast ceiling at 1,500 feet. Visibility was at two miles with light snow and mist.
The temperature was 32 degrees and the dew point was also 32 degrees. When the temperature and dew point are the same, conditions are perfect for icing, Bowling said.
“The air ambulance crew could have flown into something they might not know was there. For people in the industry, that is quite alarming,” he said.
Icing on an airplane destroys the smooth airflow over the wings and decreases the ability to create lift. It also adds weight to the plane. It can cause the plane to stall or suddenly change course.
The NTSB found icing on the leading edges of the airplane’s wings, the leading edges of the vertical tail, portions of the main landing gear tires and portions of one of the two propellers.
The NTSB report indicates the plane landed in line with the Rawlins’ runway and hit a 7,200-foot ridge about 800 feet from the crest. The plane hit the ground in a moderate descent.
The NTSB has yet to interview Baldwin, who broke bones and suffered hypothermia, and is expected to make a full recovery. Bowling hopes to do the interview in the next few weeks. While Baldwin’s information could give more clues as to why the plane crashed, Bowling also hopes it will shed light on why he was the only survivor.
“That could be very useful in enhancing the safety of airplanes,” Bowling said.
Bowling also indicated Wednesday that the NTSB plans to reinvestigate the March 2003 Yampa Valley Air Ambulance crash near Kremmling, which was blamed on pilot error.
The three people in the crash — including Linner — walked away with minor injuries. The pilot is no longer with Mountain Flight Service.
The re-examination of the Kremmling crash is part of NTSB’s investigation on the safety of air ambulances nationwide. In the past year, there have been 12 medical plane and helicopter crashes resulting in 37 deaths.
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