FAA posted ‘airworthiness directive’ on same day as Mercy Flight helicopter crash

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ELBA, N.Y. (WHEC) — There is a case of incredible coincidence involving the deadly crash of the Mercy Flight helicopter near Batavia. On the same day as the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a warning about the tail rotors on that specific model of helicopter.

The FAA said these warning reports are like car recalls. The FAA told me the timing of the report posted on the same day as the crash was coincidental. It says the helicopter that crashed was not specifically subject to the warning on Tuesday. But it had been in the past.

The helicopter that crashed killing pilots James Sauer of Churchville and Stewart Dietrick of Texas was called a Bell 429.

The day of the crash the FAA posted an "airworthiness directive" about brand new Bell 429s.

"This AD was prompted by a report of a worn pitch link" in the chopper’s tail rotor the directive says. "The FAA is issuing this AD to address the unsafe condition on these products."

The helicopter that crashed was built in 2017 and it was subject to the original FAA warning in 2019 that required "replacing certain pitch link bearings" in the tail. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators said witnesses saw the tail separate from the body of the helicopter before it fell to earth.

"The wreckage is spread out over an area of about 2000 feet," said NTSB investigator Aaron McCarter.

"So when I found out that was a distance away from the aircraft—that’s the first thing that came to mind, is the tail separated from the aircraft in flight," said Bob Engle, a pilot and aviation expert.

I asked him to read the FAA report.

"From the AD and the reports it appears that there is an issue with the tail rotor system," Engle said. "The Bell 429 is an extremely safe helicopter. I’ve flown them myself. It’s an extremely reliable machine. But again, helicopters are very unforgiving and when an AD comes out or anything like that, it should be taken very seriously and looked at very closely."

I asked the FAA if it has records that show repairs were made.

It says it does not.

I emailed the helicopter company, Bell, and asked: "Did you make the repairs in that original FAA directive?" The company did not respond.

In October, according to Aviation Safety Network—a kind of Wikipedia for helicopter crashes—another identical Mercy Flight helicopter crashed at the Genesee County Airport after a loss of control in heavy fog.

The same model of helicopter for the NYPD crashed in December when the engine cut out as it hovered over its landing area.

Police say the crews were unhurt.