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Weather, avalanche danger delays recovery of fatal helicopter wreckage

Advanced avionics could help investigators piece together why the helicopter crashed.
Rescuers found one survivor after a helicopter went down in the area near Knik Glacier on March...
Rescuers found one survivor after a helicopter went down in the area near Knik Glacier on March 27, 2021. Five others in the helicopter died.(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 5:15 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The National Transportation Safety Board has temporarily turned the wreckage of a crashed Airbus AS350 B3 helicopter over to the company that owns it, according to NTSB Investigator Clint Johnson.

It will be up to the company’s insurers to hoist the wreckage away from the crash site. Once that’s done, the expectation is that whatever is recovered is turned over to the NTSB to further its investigation, Johnson said.

“Our hope is, weather permitting, snow conditions and avalanche danger conditions pending […] We hope to have the wreckage off hopefully by the end of the week at the latest,” Johnson said in a Tuesday phone interview with Alaska’s News Source. “But again, there’s a lot of ifs at this point.”

Johnson said the helicopter came to rest at an elevation of 5,000 or 6,000 feet near Palmer, Alaska, where steep terrain and avalanche danger are of concern. Investigators have said the helicopter fell 800 or 900 feet after colliding with the mountain near a ridgeline.

Five men died in the crash, and one survived.

The crash site is difficult to reach, and Johnson said “the wreckage will need to be swung out of there with a helicopter.”

Johnson said as a “latest generation” helicopter, the AS350 B3 has a lot of electronics on it, including an electronic fuel monitoring system that stores and downloads data. It is not designed to be a flight data recorder, or what is commonly referred to as a “black box.” But that doesn’t mean the data it contains won’t help.

Johnson referred to the information investigators might glean from such data as “another piece of the puzzle.”

“We’re hoping that we can recover […] those boxes [and] have them downloaded to give us a little bit better of an idea of what happened and what led up to this accident,” Johnson said.

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