Federal investigators say there were no obvious signs of mechanical problems in either of two news helicopters that collided in midair Friday over central Phoenix, killing all four people on board.
http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/images/photos/6po3ffnv.jpg" rel= "lytebox" class="content-link">GRAPHIC: View the helicopters' specifications
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Steve Chealander said witnesses to the crash did not see any indications of mechanical problems in the seconds before the helicopters collided.
At this point, he said, there is no evidence of falling debris, smoke, erratic flying or a change in sound before the collision — the kinds of things that could indicate mechanical problems.
“It looked like everything was normal for helicopter flight, no erratic out-of-control type maneuvering,” Chealander said. “It looked like everybody was trying to do their job and the two ran together. One appeared to be relatively stationary and the other as moving. That’s all we know.”
The helicopters were not equipped with the equivalent of a “black box” that records in-flight data such as those found on commercial airliners.
Helicopters carrying news crews from KNXV-TV (Channel 15) and KTVK-TV (Channel 3) collided at 12:46 p.m. as they were covering a police pursuit of a man in a stolen vehicle. The aircraft plunged to the ground and burst into flames in Steele Indian School Park at Indian School Road and Central Avenue.
Killed were ABC 15 pilot Craig Smith and cameraman Rick Krolak and Channel 3 pilot Scott Bowerbank and cameraman Jim Cox.
At this point it appears the Channel 3 helicopter was hovering over the park, and the ABC 15 helicopter drifted into it, either from below or at the same level, Chealander said.
That is based on the accounts of seven eyewitnesses who have been interviewed by investigators, he said.
In the coming days, federal investigators will gather any audio and videotapes that may have recorded the crash. Besides the two helicopters, three other news helicopters and a Phoenix Police Department helicopter were over the park at the time.
Workers continued removing the wreckage Saturday and expect to have the debris transported to a secure facility by noon today.
Chealander said investigators will then try to reconstruct the collision, looking for such things as rotor strikes. But they will not attempt to reassemble the helicopters.
A pond in the park will be partially drained so Phoenix police divers can search for missing parts.
Chealander said the federal team expects to issue a preliminary report by Friday. That report will lay out the facts surrounding the crash but will not reach any conclusions on a cause, Chealander said.
That process likely will take about nine months.