Report: SkyEye lost power before crash

April 27, 2010 5:30:17 PM PDT
On Oct. 13, 2008, our news helicopter, SkyEye 13, crashed on the way to breaking news, killing both men onboard. Seventeen months after the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board released its final investigation on that crash. The report gives a generic reason for the crash but does not say exactly what contributed to that cause. Federal crash investigators also omitted a key preliminary finding from their initial probe of the tragic incident.

"You could hear the helicopter blades and then boom, it stopped" said Harold Robinson, a witness ABC 13 interviewed the day of the crash. "As soon as it exploded, it was all over." Eyewitnesses told us back then it appeared SkyEye lost power and fell into a pine forest near Conroe. The crash killed our pilot John Downhower and photographer-reporter Dave Garrett.

"It looks like the helicopter impacted the ground at a very steep angle," DPS Sgt. Kenneth Heibert said. "It gouged a decent size hole in the ground and when it did that it broke apart."

The NTSB's report, released last month, says SkyEye completely lost power. But it does not say why. The agency tested several systems on SkyEye. But none of them were malfunctioning on the day of the crash. The NTSB concludes the loss of power came from an undetermined source.

We spoke with a longtime helicopter pilot and fatality reconstructionist who pointed us to the preliminary NTSB findings. In that report, the NTSB says an engine part apparently malfunctioned and may have prevented our pilot from attempting an emergency landing.

That malfunction is not mentioned in the final version of the report. We learned of the discrepancy too late in the day to ask the NTSB why.

Last year, our Garrett was added to the journalist's memorial at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Our thoughts continue to be with Garrett and Downhower's families.
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