Fierce winds reported at copter crash site

August 22, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A pilot flying near Baltimore-Washington International Airport shortly after a helicopter crashed there this month says unstable winds might have played a role in the fatal accident, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The preliminary report, which makes no mention of mechanical problems with the helicopter, does not include a cause of the crash. But a pilot who flew over the crash site said the winds could have rendered a helicopter's tail rotor ineffective.

"The winds were out of the south-southeast, and they were very unstable. Pure hell," the unnamed pilot is quoted as saying in the NTSB preliminary report. "We were getting the [expletive] kicked out of us."

The pilot of the helicopter that crashed, James Vincent Osterman, 37, of Davidsonville, died when the aircraft plummeted from about 250 feet above a construction site at the airport. His passenger, Daniel James Breitenbach, 50, of Parkville, who had been taking pictures of the airport construction for state officials, died a few hours later at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Osterman was flying a Bell 206B operated by Helicopter Transport Services, based at Martin State Airport.

Investigators said Helicopter Transport Services logs showed that Osterman had more than 530 hours of flight experience.

The aircraft had passed its annual maintenance inspection in October.

Roy Resavage, president of Alexandria, Va.-based Helicopter Association International, said he wasn't familiar enough with the accident to speculate on the cause. He said winds can undermine a helicopter's stability.

A helicopter is most stable if the winds are steady and the aircraft is facing into the wind, he said. A pilot can fly in the direction of the wind and when the wind's direction and velocity are changing, but, he said, "it's harder to do."

NTSB lead investigator Brian Rayner declined to comment on a possible cause of the accident. The probable cause of the crash will be addressed in the final report, which is expected to be completed early next year.

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