Officials seek witnesses to fatal S.C. chopper crash

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

GEORGETOWN, S.C. (AP) ó As federal investigators looked for witnesses to the crash of a medical helicopter, funeral services were set for two of the three crew members killed in the rainy weekend accident.
Investigators said they found no immediate indication there was any malfunction with the aircraft before the Friday night crash and that the engine seemed to be working properly.
The helicopter went down in a pine stand in a sparsely populated area south of Georgetown, about 60 miles northeast of Charleston, S.C.
“We’re not surprised, it being so rural, we have not heard from anybody,” Peter Knudson, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman.
He said two NTSB investigators would remain at the scene for the next day or two documenting wreckage that, at this point, provides no obvious clue what happened.
“There is nothing we have found so far to indicate there was anything wrong with the aircraft prior to the accident,” he said. The helicopter did not have, and was not required to have, a flight voice recorder.
As part of the investigation, experts will take apart the engine to make sure it was operating properly, Knudson said.
Omniflight, the Texas-based company that operated the helicopter, identified the crew members as pilot Patrick Walters, 45, of Murrells Inlet, flight nurse Diana Conner, 42, of Florence and paramedic Randolph Claxton Dove, 39, of Bladenboro, N.C.
A company spokeswoman said she was checking for background and could not immediately say how long each worker had been with the company.
Services for Walters, a native of Monroe, La., and a former decorated Marine captain survived by a wife, a son and two daughters, are Wednesday at St. Michael Catholic Church in Garden City, S.C., where he was a member.
Services for Dove are Thursday at Sandy Grove Baptist Church in his hometown of Bladenboro. He is survived by a wife and two daughters.
The family requested there be no service for Conner, survived by a husband, a son and a daughter. A native of Elyria, Ohio, she earlier worked as an emergency room nurse at Williamsburg Regional Hospital and for Williamsburg County emergency medical technician in Kingstree.
“She had a touch, a way with people. I think there are special people put here on earth and called to do these things. Helping people is what Diana was called to do,” Williamsburg County EMS Director Renee Bryant told the Morning News of Florence.
Conner always wanted to be a flight nurse. “When she was offered the job with OmniFlight, she was thrilled. She was finally living out her dream,” Bryant said.
The helicopter had just dropped off a patient at a hospital in Charleston and was flying to Conway, about 90 miles to the northeast, when it crashed.
Investigators said it had flown between two intense thunderstorms and it was raining at the time.
The weather will be part of the investigation, which could take more than a year to complete, Knudson said. He said fatal accidents take longer to investigate, he said.
“They are a lot more severe, obviously,” he said. “When you don’t have anyone to talk to and there is no voice recorder, it makes the investigations more complex.”
The crash came a day after the NTSB issued 21 recommendations to help improve the safety of air ambulance flights.