PHOENIX - Two helicopter news pilots were in the middle of describing a car chase when their aircraft collided and killed four people last year, according to transcripts of on board video recordings released by federal investigators.
The series of National Transportation Safety Board reports don't determine what caused the midair crash on July 27, 2007, spokesman Keith Holloway said Thursday. But they illustrate what happened just before the collision.
Investigators are expected to present full explanation of what happened to the NTSB board in the coming months.
The "information we're releasing will be analyzed and that information will be presented to the five-member board," Holloway said.
The choppers from KNXV-TV and KTVK-TV plummeted into the lawn of a Phoenix park after the crash, disintegrating in a fiery heap. KTVK pilot Scott Bowerbank, KNXV pilot Craig Smith, KTVK photographer Jim Cox and KNXV photographer Rick Krolak were killed.
Krolak's 15-year-old son has since filed a lawsuit blaming Smith for being "careless, reckless, and grossly negligent."
The NTSB's preliminary accident report said witnesses indicated the KTVK helicopter was relatively stationary and the KNXV helicopter was maneuvering.
According to another report dated Aug. 12, investigators said it also appears that both pilots were talking to a number of people, including the news station staff, other helicopter pilots, the police, air traffic control officials and the photojournalist on board.
The final moments for both helicopter crews were logged in audio and video recordings. According to an NTSB transcript, Bowerbank started his report less than a minute before the collision.
"Hi Scott Bowerbank up in News Chopper Three. We're following a police chase that's been going on for about the last thirty minutes here...." he said.
Meanwhile, Smith also was following the chase: "Apparently, the police pulled this vehicle over and, uh, the vehicle then backed into the cruiser...." Smith said.
Both news crews continued to follow the chase as the driver of the car got out and fled to another vehicle with Phoenix police in pursuit.
"Now he's in another vehicle," Smith said on the transcript. "OK, OK doors open, police OK. Oh jee..."
Investigators said the collision happened just then. The transcript noted a sound similar to a transmission gear noise from the KNXV helicopter, followed by sounds of a crash.
In a summary report, Senior Air Safety Investigator Howard Plagens said both pilots were experienced, with thousands of hours logged in the air, and toxicology reports showed that neither had drugs in their system at the time of the crash.
Since the accident, KTVK has changed the way it manages its helicopter crews. If a flight requires reporting, the station will put pilots together, plus a photographer on board. One pilot is expected to do the reporting while the other concentrates on the flight, according to an NTSB report.
The remaining news pilots who work in the Phoenix area also suggested a number of safety improvements to federal investigators, including high visibility rotor blades, LED anti-collision strobe lights and improved position lights.
Since the crash, news pilots told investigators they're talking more to each other and putting more distance between each other. When they're hovering, nobody moves until all other helicopters check in, an NTSB report said.