Investigators are still trying to determine what caused a helicopter to crash Friday in the woods in Whitefield.
Air Safety Investigator Brian Rayner of the National Transportation Safety Board said investigators did a cursory exam on Saturday, but that the probe of the aircraft itself will not begin in earnest until it has been removed from the woods where it has remained since falling out of the sky around 2 p.m. Friday.
“I’ve given the operator permission to move it from the woods to the hangar,” Rayner said.
The crash occurred in a heavily wooded area off East River Road, near Clary Lake and Route 126. Maine Helicopters Inc., which owns the aircraft, is about a mile away to the south.
Andrew Berry, a retired employee of Maine Helicopters, confirmed the company owned the helicopter and that it had been piloted by Mike Connolly, who had been flying alone from Bangor to the Whitefield company’s site, not far from the crash.
A man who answered the phone at Maine Helicopters on Monday hung up on a reporter seeking additional information. Company officials did not respond to an email seeking additional comment.
The Federal Aviation Administration lists five helicopter pilots named Michael Connolly in the nation, none of whom have a Maine address. All but two of those pilots have held a license for at least 20 years. Neither the FAA nor Rayner would confirm that Connolly was piloting the helicopter, but Rayner said the man flying the aircraft was treated and released at a local hospital.
“I understand they were minor,” Rayner said of the pilot’s injuries. “I am grateful he’s relatively uninjured.”
Rules allow a pilot involved in a crash to continue flying during the investigation, according to FAA officials.
Berry said Friday that the company did not immediately know why the helicopter crashed. The Wiscasset Newspaper, citing a Lincoln County Sheriff’s detective, reported that the helicopter ran out of fuel. Rayner said fuel was collected from the helicopter, but part of the investigation will be determine if there was enough fuel on board to continue to feed the aircraft.
“I need to go through the whole fuel system, anyway,” Rayner said. “There are miles of fuel lines. We just need to go through it. We need to work to figure out why this occurred and make sure it doesn’t have fleet-wide implications.”
The helicopter, a Bell OH-53A, is listed as having three seats. Berry said the company uses the helicopters mainly to do flyover inspections of pipelines and power lines. The company has a fleet of seven helicopters, and besides line inspections, does emergency patrols, according to its website.
Rayner said Maine Helicopters is making plans to remove the helicopter, which landed upright on its skids in a thick stand of trees. Rayner said the aircraft could be lifted out or disassembled and taken out in pieces.
“The operator has the means, but there is some delay,” Rayner said. “We’re still in the process of deciding how best to affect the recovery and preserve the evidence.”
Rayner said he is confident that investigators will be able to determine why the helicopter crashed.
“We just take a systematic approach to these examinations,” he said. “The process will most often reveal the evidence we need to explain how the accident happened. We’re typically pretty successful in determining how these events take place.”
Craig Crosby — 621-5642 | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @CraigCrosby4