Copter crew unaware of airplane

NTSB releases crash report on midair collision

By Brad Zinn/staff • bzinn@newsleader.com • January 12, 2011

WEYERS CAVE — A light airplane that collided with a medevac helicopter just north of Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport was not in the airport’s traffic pattern, deepening the mystery over the New Year’s Eve accident in which two died.

A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board also said witnesses reported the helicopter was overtaking the light plane, a Cessna 172H, at the time of the crash. Federal flight rules give aircraft the right of way when they are being overtaken.
The report also disclosed that while the helicopter was in radio contact with two other airplanes operating around the airport, its crew was unaware of the Cessna until just before the collision, and that its collision avoidance system that monitors transponder signals from aircraft in the area didn’t sound an alert.
Flight instructor Jason A. Long, 32, of Edinburg, and 19-year-old Jacob H. Kiser of Grottoes, died after their Cessna lost a wing and slammed into a field about a half-mile from SVRA just off Va. 256. Kiser’s log book showed just seven hours of flight experience, the report stated.
But the report raises key questions about the accident, said pilot and aviation lawyer Jon Kettles, of Dallas.
“I think a lot of the story is definitely missing,” he said.
Among the key questions:

Whether the Cessna’s transponder — an electronic device that regular broadcasts its position to air traffic controllers and collision avoidance systems — was on. Why the Cessna was where it was — Kettles said it didn’t make obvious sense for the plane to be where it was when it and the helicopter collided, a half mile northwest of the airport, given wind conditions and normal airport traffic patterns. How the helicopter is supposed to approach the airport for a landing, and whether it following that procedure. A spokesman for PHI Inc., the Louisana-based company that operated the AirCare 5 medevac helicopter did not return a call seeking comment.Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in Frederick, Md., said that when pilots approach SVRA, they enter a set traffic pattern.

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