NTSB: Investigation into missing helicopter might not include examination of wreckage
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The U.S. Coast Guard announced on Wednesday it had suspended the search for a missing helicopter piloted by the former head of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, meaning the investigation into what happened to the man and the aircraft will likely move forward without the wreckage.
According to the Coast Guard, Andy Teuber, who recently and abruptly resigned as the head of the state’s largest Native tribal health organization, took off from Anchorage’s Merrill Field Airport Tuesday afternoon in a black and white Robinson R66 with the tail number N1767. He was last seen wearing a hat, black sweater and jeans.
Coast Guard search crews spotted debris floating in an area at the entrance of Cook Inlet Tuesday evening, roughly two nautical miles southwest of the Barren Islands. The debris was used as an indicator to calculate a drift pattern and plan the search for the missing pilot.
“Suspending a search is always a difficult decision for the Coast Guard, and after conducting an extensive search with the aircraft and surface assets we had available, it’s with a heavy heart that we did suspend the search for the missing pilot, and our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and everyone who has been affected by this incident,” Commander Matthew Hobbie, search and rescue mission coordinator of the Coast Guard Anchorage Sector, said during an interview Wednesday afternoon.
Hobbie said a significant factor in the decision was “probability of survival.”
“We were also most focused on finding the pilot in the water, if we could,” he said. “We did have a hope that we could recover some of the debris, but later in the search when we had that opportunity, weather conditions had deteriorated to the point where it was difficult and actually unsafe to do so.”
Even without a crash site or wreckage to examine, the National Transportation Safety Board is already investigating the incident.
“The NTSB’s job in this case it to tell the story, how did the flight come together?” said Clint Johnson, NTSB’s Alaska chief, on Wednesday.
Johnson said interviews are already underway with folks at Kodiak Helicopters, where Teuber was an operator. The NTSB has also assigned a meteorologist to look into the weather conditions in the area at the time of what is believed to be a crash.
“We also are blessed with spider tracks, which is a electronic tracking device that the operator used, as well as a ADS-B, which is an air traffic control type tracking system as well, so our folks in Washington DC in our vehicle recorder lab will be analyzing that data to see if they might be able to squeeze just a little bit more information out of it,” Johnson said.
Ideally, the NTSB would have wreckage to examine, but Johnson acknowledged that might not happen.
“We hope that there’s maybe an outside chance that we might get some that washes up, but at this point right now we have to go on the assumption that we probably will not have actual wreckage to look at,” he said.
Johnson said any boaters or pilots in the area who spot potential debris or wreckage are asked to report it to the NTSB, and if possible, safely take photos of it.
“Ultimately we want to do and assist the Coast Guard is to determine if this is wreckage in fact from the missing helicopter,” Johnson said. “At this point right now, it’s pretty well confirmed, but we want absolute confirmation that this is our parts and pieces from this from this missing helicopter.”
The NTSB is also asking that anyone who might have witnessed the incident or was in the area on Tuesday afternoon contact the NTSB and share information on what the weather conditions were like.
Information can be sent to witness@NTSB.gov.
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