NTSB recovers emergency transmitter from helicopter wreckage

Rescuers did not receive a signal from the transmitter. Investigators want to know why.
Courtesy: Alaska Mountain Rescue Group
Courtesy: Alaska Mountain Rescue Group
Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 7:13 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - At a hangar in Anchorage on Wednesday, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board looked through the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed March 27 near Knik Glacier, killing five men, including the pilot.

One man, a heli-skiing guest from the Czech Republic, survived.

“We were able to harvest some of the fuel system electronics,” Clint Johnson, regional chief for the NTSB in Alaska, said in a phone call with Alaska’s News Source.

The fuel system electronics store data, including pressures, speeds and temperatures. That data could be helpful, so the equipment is now on its way to the manufacturer in France for further analysis, Johnson said.

The NTSB team also found the emergency locator transmitter. The transmitters are designed to give an alert and send a signal to rescuers with the GPS coordinates in the event of a crash. For reasons not yet known, the Rescue Coordination Center, which is operated on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage by the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing, didn’t receive the alert.

“The rescue coordination center did not receive the signal. So we’re going to be looking very closely at the reason for that,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it was damaged. We did find it, but we’re in the process of evaluating that.”

The lone survivor, David Horvath, suffered broken ribs and frostbite, according to a friend of his interviewed by the sports news site isport.cz. Horvath, a world-class snowboarder who’s also taken up photography, is someone investigators hope can help them better understand what took place the day of the crash.

“We have received word that he is willing to talk to us, just not right now,” Johnson said. “Recuperating from those injuries is paramount. We’re going to make sure that he’s able to talk to us and give us a good chronological order of what took place up to just before the accident.”

This case is classified as a major investigation, and it could take up to a year for the NTSB to publish its findings. A preliminary report could be out by next week, Johnson said.

The investigative team includes operations experts, engineers, airworthiness investigators, a helicopter specialist, a human performance investigator and a survival factors expert.

“One of the disciplines that’s being involved for this specific investigation is the survival factors expert,” Johnson said. “They will look at the timelines and they will look at the emergency locator transmitter, ELT. They’ll look at the response times. Again, that’s very standard. But that investigator will be specifically looking at the survivability of this accident.”

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