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Engine Failure Cited as Cause of Fiery Helicopter Crash That Injured 3

Preliminary NTSB report provides new details about May 5 crash landing at La Cumbre County Club

Engine failure led to the May 5 crash of a sightseeing helicopter at La Cumbre Country Club in Santa Barbara, according to a prelimary report from the National Transportation Safety Board. Click to view larger
Engine failure led to the May 5 crash of a sightseeing helicopter at La Cumbre Country Club in Santa Barbara, according to a prelimary report from the National Transportation Safety Board. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk file photo)

Engine failure led to the crash of a sightseeing helicopter that resulted in injuries to the pilot and two passengers earlier this month in Santa Barbara, according to a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The R44 Robinson helicopter, operated by Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours, lost power and went down at La Cumbre Country Club just after 2 p.m. May 5.

Two Westmont College alumni, Courtney Crosby and Turner Conrad, were seriously injured in the crash, and pilot Michael Ower, owner of the helicopter tour company, also was hurt.

All three have since been released from Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and are recovering from their injuries.

The three were on what was billed as a 20-minute “city tour” sightseeing flight that left the Santa Barbara Airport at 1:45 p.m., according to the NTSB report.

Due to a low cloud ceiling, Ower had requested special visual flight rules clearance for both the outbound and inbound legs of the flight.

On the way back to the airport, Ower was directed to stay out of the airport’s airspace due to other traffic that was landing, and he circled the city for about 10 minutes, the report says.

“He then proceeded to follow the 101 Highway west toward the airport, and a brief time later he noticed that the engine began to lose partial power, coincident with the clutch actuator light illuminating,” the report says.

“He reset the clutch actuator circuit breaker while evaluating his landing options.”

As Ower was maneuvering toward the La Cumbre golf course, to avoid the highway and congested areas, the helicopter lost all power, the report says.

Ower initiated what is known as an autorotation of the helicopter’s rotor blades in an attempt to ease the landing, with the aim of setting down on the golf course, the report says.

Westmont College alumni Courtney Crosby and Turner Conrad were seriously injured May 5 when their sightseeing helicopter crashed during an aerial tour of Santa Barbara. Both are recovering from their injuries. Click to view larger
Westmont College alumni Courtney Crosby and Turner Conrad were seriously injured May 5 when their sightseeing helicopter crashed during an aerial tour of Santa Barbara. Both are recovering from their injuries. (Westmont College photo)

“During the final stage of the descent, he realized he would not be able to reach the grass area due to a wall, so he landed just short in a parking lot,” the report says.

“During the landing flare, the helicopter’s main rotor blades struck the roof of a building, and the helicopter landed hard, spreading both skids.”

After the crash, Ower, Crosby and Conrad were able to exit the aircraft, which burst into flames and eventually was destroyed by fire.

“Multiple witnesses reported seeing an object fall from the helicopter as it flew over the highway, and post-accident examination revealed that the engine’s number 3 cylinder head assembly and piston were missing,” the report says.

A search the next day by the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Search & Rescue Team located the damaged engine parts in a field about a quarter-mile from the crash site, the report says.

The R44 Robinson helicopter was owned by Spitzer Helicopter, a Riverside County company, and leased to Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours, which is based at the airport.

Completion of a final report on the crash could take several more months.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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