iPad is likely linked to cause of fatal helicopter crash, investigators say

An iPad was found in the Salmon River near the cockpit of the CH-47D Chinook helicopter that crashed in Idaho in 2022
Published: Jul. 17, 2023 at 9:28 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The National Transportation Safety Board released a detailed report Sunday, revealing what the agency is calling “surprising” information that likely contributed to a helicopter crash that killed an Anchorage pilot.

Pilots Jared Bird, 36, of Anchorage and Thomas Hayes, 41, of Post Falls, Idaho, were helping fight a wildfire last year in a Chinook helicopter near North Fork, Idaho, when the aircraft crashed into the Salmon River.

An iPad was found in the river near the cockpit of the CH-47D Chinook helicopter, said Clint Johnson, chief of the NTSB’s Alaska Regional office. Specific damage to an iPad is likely tied to the cause of the crash that took the lives of both men, Johnson said.

“What the investigative team found, at the end of the day, was most likely that the iPad that was in the cockpit, fell in between the controls, the control pedals, the yaw control pedals, and ultimately played a part in the accident,” Johnson said. “Again, keep in mind, this is not the final report, this is not probable cause, but we wanted to get the word out now to keep that condition from happening.”

The iPad’s damage, three distinct gouges, is consistent with what investigators found on instrument controls on an identical helicopter, the NTSB wrote in their Exemplar Helicopter and iPad Examination Summary published on June 16.

“They were able to find an exemplary Chinook that was owned by the same operator, they were able to actually match those witness marks up,” Johnson said. “We had that information quite some time ago, however, we needed to go through that machine to make sure we weren’t missing anything. We didn’t want to jump to conclusions. But now, we have pretty good evidence that most likely, this at least played a part in the accident at this point.”

Electronic devices, such as phones and tablets, are common in a variety of aircraft, Johnson said. A driving reason the NTSB released details of the fatal crash is to raise awareness and prevent it from happening again.

“It’s a little surprising,” Johnson said. “We have investigated accidents where flight controls have become encumbered before or interfered with the control of the aircraft. This was a unique situation, obviously, but again, it’s something that we wanted to get the word out to make sure that every operator is cognizant of this, of the findings we have so far.”

Postaccident examination of the helicopter revealed that the pilot’s left pedal was at the middle adjustment setting. With the seat restraints on, and seats adjusted, the public docket described that the men possibly could not reach the iPad before the crash. The NTSB’s final crash report is in an active review process and will likely be released in the coming months.

Monday, the president of ROTAK Helicopter Services, the company that owns the aircraft that crashed near North Fork, released a prepared statement.

“ROTAK Helicopter Services is a company that focuses on external load work such as aerial firefighting and construction, our modern fleet of specialized helicopters are used specifically for these tasks. We operate with two internationally accredited safety programs, the first is ISBAO (International Standard for Business Aviation Operations) we have a stage 3 certificate; this is the highest caliber safety certificate in the industry. The second certificate we hold is BARS (Basic Aviation Risk Standard) we have a BARS Gold certificate. This is also the highest tier safety certificate for this program,” the statement read. “These two safety programs have implemented policy and training into our company for items such as ‘sterile cockpit’ and ‘the use of electronic devises.’ We have had and will continue to have these policies in place. It has taken many years to achieve these high standards within our organization, we spend an incredible amount of time training our employees both in person annually and periodically in the field throughout the year.

“We hope that the message that comes out of this report from the NTSB makes it to individuals and businesses to help prevent a future incident or accident. I-Pads are widely used tools in aviation and have undoubtedly increased safety margins when used correctly. It doesn’t matter if you’re a private or commercial pilot or crew member, it’s important that everyone practices sterile cockpit procedures and finds a safe way to manage their devises such as I-Pads to ensure they don’t become loose during flight.

“When the final report is released, we will be more than willing to share more information and hopefully help educate our industry on safe practices and guidance that will prevent future incidents and accidents.”