Published Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 | 1:23 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 | 4:17 p.m.
Approximate crash area
The National Transportation Safety Board's 12-member investigative team will spend at least three days combing through the wreckage of a tour helicopter that crashed Wednesday near Lake Mead, killing all five aboard, authorities said today.
Mark Rosekind, a NTSB board member, said a preliminary report about the accident will be issued within 10 business days, but said it could be up to a year before a final report is released that will detail what happened and why. The team will not speculate about causes while on scene.
“The why is critical for us because it allows us to issue a safety recommendation so that accidents like this do not happen again,” he said at a news conference this morning.
The NTSB investigation team was assembled in Las Vegas this morning and was en route this afternoon to join others near the crash site, 2.5 miles south of Lake Las Vegas on a mountainside between Henderson and Lake Mead.
The tour helicopter, operated by Las Vegas-based company Sundance Helicopters, crashed into the mountain about 5 p.m. Wednesday. The Clark County Coroner’s Office has not released their identities, but Sundance identified the pilot as Landon Nield, 31. Nield was married in June in Las Vegas and was a pilot with the company for several years.
The helicopter was on a flight from McCarran International Airport to the Hoover Dam, one of its normal tour routes.
Investigators have not determined whether Nield gave any indications of distress before the crash, Rosekind said.
The NTSB “Go Team” — a group of specialists sent to investigate major crash scenes — will examine operations, the helicopter's air worthiness, its maintenance and human factors, Rosekind said.
Investigators said the remote location of the crash site will be an obstacle. Earlier today, authorities from the NTSB, National Park Service and Coroner’s Office were crafting an access plan.
Authorities likely will have to take helicopters or off-road vehicles to the site, Rosekind said. “I think there’s going to be very limited access to the site,” he said. “It’s going to make it harder.”
The helicopter was a Eurocopter AS350, built in 1989, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.
According to the Sundance Helicopters website, the company has daily tours to the Grand Canyon, with many helicopters landing on the canyon floor. The company, which has a fleet of 23 helicopters, flies more than 160,000 passengers a year, the website says.
Sundance is a member of the Tour Operators Program of Safety, a professional group of air tour operators and the tour company has won the FAA Diamond Award twice for excellence in aircraft maintenance, the website says.
The company undergoes an annual safety practices audit by the T.O.P.S. board of review, according to the website. This review certifies that the company meets the safety regulations of the FAA.