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Oklahoma City fatal helicopter investigation will take months

National Transportation Safety Board investigators hope clues from the medical helicopter wreckage will help explain why it crashed Friday in northwest Oklahoma City. The accident killed the pilot and flight nurse; a paramedic remained in critical condition Saturday at a hospital in Dallas.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Modified: February 23, 2013 at 10:04 pm •  Published: February 23, 2013

Federal investigators Saturday began putting together pieces of a puzzle they hope eventually will explain why a medical helicopter crashed in northwest Oklahoma City, killing two people and critically injuring another.

Understanding Friday's accident will involve careful analysis of the wreckage and witness statements and could take many months to complete, said Alex Lemishko, senior air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

“There were no radio or distress calls from the pilot that would indicate any sort of problems during the initial phase of the flight,” he told reporters while investigators combed through the wreckage on St. Ann Drive. “Nothing seemed rushed about this particular mission.”

Pilot Mark Montgomery and flight nurse Chris Denning died when the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter — a 2004 model — crashed and exploded before sunup Friday.

The flight paramedic, Billy Wynne, remained in critical condition with severe burns Saturday at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Witnesses were able to pull him from the wreckage and to safety just before the helicopter exploded a second time.

The aircraft was owned and operated by EagleMed, a Wichita, Kan.-based air medical transport service. It had just taken off from Integris Baptist Medical Center and was en route to Watonga to pick up a cardiac patient.

Lemishko said experts with the board as well as the Federal Aviation Administration — with the assistance of technical advisers with the helicopter's manufacturer — are conducting a detailed inspection of the wreckage on the ground.

Yellow police tape barred access to the scene Saturday. Workers and visitors to an adjacent nursing home were detoured to the back of the facility while the investigation work was under way.

Lemishko said investigators would move the wreckage Sunday to a secure facility for a more detailed examination.

He said satellite tracking devices and surveillance footage at the hospital indicated nothing unusual about the helicopter's condition or the crew's flight preparations.

Montgomery had vast experience flying helicopters, including two years with EagleMed, a previous stint with the U.S. Army and recently as a pilot with the Oklahoma National Guard. The helicopter he was flying is a “viable platform” for medical transport nationwide, Lemishko said.

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