Deadly Genesee County helicopter crash: What the NTSB knows now & what to expect

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ELBA, N.Y. (WHEC) — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Wednesday outlined what it knows about the Mercy Flight helicopter crash that killed two men in Elba, Genesee County on Tuesday afternoon and the next steps in its investigation.

Retired Rochester Police Officer, New York State Police pilot and National Guard pilot and current Mercy Flight pilot James Sauer, 60, of Churchville and Stewart M. Dietrick, 60 of Prosper, Texas, a Bell Helicopter flight instructor, were killed in the crash.

Both were highly experienced pilots, NTSB officials said.

NTSB Air Safety Investigator Aaron McCarter said investigators expect to be on the scene for three to five more days, and that he expects to have a preliminary report ready for release in about 10 days. He says the full investigation could take as long as 12 months.

McCarter also said several "highly credible" witnesses to the crash described seeing the helicopter experience what looked and sounded like mechanical issues before the crash. At one point, those witnesses described the tail boom that contains the tail rotor separated from the helicopter. It was found 300 feet away from the main crash site.

The helicopter does not have a black box, McCarter said.

There was a small fire after the crash, at the site where both men were found dead, that was quickly put out.

McCarter did not know at the time of the briefing which man was flying the helicopter at the time of the crash, or what the nature of the training flight they were on at the time was.

He said they spent about an hour flying in a routine airport pattern before heading out to the area where they crashed, which is only a couple of miles from the airport. The helicopter hit some power lines on the way down.

The Federal Aviation Administration is helping with the investigation. The NTSB and FAA as of Wednesday were int he process of documenting the wreckage and trying to get any of the data off the helicopter that they could.

After the on-site investigation wraps up, the wreckage will be moved.

"The accident scene is not very conducive—as you know—to conducting a thorough on-scene investigation," McCarter said. "The mud is about six inches deep. The wreckage is spread out over an area of about 2,000 feet from beginning to end, with a main portion of the wreckage behind me fairly intact, although severely damaged. So that wreckage is going to be transported back to this facility down Clayton, Delaware, where we will do basically a two-dimensional assembly of it on a hangar floor and will be able to see how the helicopter can assist us in determining how the helicopter came apart and what happened first."

Watch the full press conference in the video in the player below (mobile users, click here):

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