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Fatal South Mountain helicopter crash ruled accidental

July 29, 2010
  • The wreckage of a commercial helicopter that crashed July 23, 2009, on Interstate 70 on South Mountain sits on the shoulder of the highway. Four people died in the crash.
File photo,

The cause of a helicopter crash in July 2009 that killed four people on South Mountain has been ruled an accident, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report released earlier this week.

The report said poor visibility and bad weather contributed to the crash, which occurred July 23, 2009, about 10:30 p.m.

The pilot took off from Hagerstown Regional Airport on a trip to Frederick, Md., and was in the process of turning back when the helicopter clipped a steel guy-wire above Interstate 70. The helicopter then crashed on the roadway near the border between Washington and Frederick counties, the report said.

Although the report did not list the names of the deceased, those killed in the crash were identified by Maryland State Police as pilot Jeffrey D. Nordaas, 24, of Columbia, Md.; and passengers Kim R. Felix, 48, and Niall R.Y. Booth, 43, both of New Market, Md., and George H. Tutor Jr., 39, of Westminster, Md.

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The report said Nordaas had about 645 hours of total flight experience, which included about 440 hours in helicopters.

The flight originally was delayed for two hours because of bad weather, but resumed around 10:15 p.m. when conditions improved, The Herald-Mail has reported.

Nordaas and Tutor were employees of Advanced Helicopter Concepts, a flight-training company based at the Frederick airport. Booth was directing a charity event for a nonprofit organization affiliated with the helicopter company, and Felix had flown with the group to attend an event at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

According to witnesses quoted in the report, sparks could be seen in the sky before the helicopter crashed and "burst into flames."

"A witness, driving east on Interstate 70, stated that he observed the helicopter pass over his right side," the report said. "It was a dark night, and there was fog present about 50 feet above the roadway surface. The helicopter appeared to fly into low clouds, turned around, and was heading back toward the west, when it contacted power lines just as his car passed under them. The helicopter impacted the ground and 'burst into flames.'"

A toxicology screening showed that no drugs or alcohol were found in the pilot's system, the report said.

The helicopter, a Robinson R44, was privately owned by a trustee of Advanced Helicopter Youth Foundation, according to the report.

-- Dan Dearth

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