Witnesses to chopper crash asked to come forward

September 11, 2012 10:56:27 AM PDT
Federal investigators working to determine the cause of a deadly helicopter crash in northeast Harris County. The chopper went down Monday afternoon near Highway 90 and Beltway 8, killing both people on board.

The investigation is still in its early stages. The National Transportation and Safety Board says it will take about a week for a preliminary report to be released. The final analysis will take a year.

The NTSB is documenting what's left of the helicopter, and it is not much. The craft crashed just before 4pm Monday, very close to Highway 90. Pilot Christopher John Yeager, 40, and his passenger, photographer Joyce Ann Ates, 60, were killed.

They were in a Robinson 22 Beta 2 helicopter which was used for photography. It's owned by Helicopter Services, Inc. out of Spring and was based at Hooks Airport. That's where the two victims took off, reportedly refueling in Baytown and crashing near Miller Road 3 and Highway 90, in a pipe yard.

The NTSB explains there was a great deal of fire because of the amount of fuel. Some crash witnesses who saw the low-flying chopper circling believe that the pilot was trying to avoid the highway to save lives. If that was his goal, the NTSB says he did it.

"I was coming down Highway 90 and I saw a (helicopter) spinning out of control," said Jose Escamilla, one of several people who tried to rescue the victims. "At that moment, we knew it was going to crash. We pulled over."

A small group of men parked their cars and crawled under the fence, joining workers at the business who were trying to rescue the victims in the helicopter.

Unfortunately, they say the fire that damaged the aircraft was just too much to handle. But their efforts continued even when they knew those onboard didn't make it.

"When I looked at them, I knew they were gone," said Escamilla. "I was trying to save the bodies from being burned for the families. I would want someone to do that for me."

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Yeagar and Ates died on impact.

"It's lucky that it didn't on the highway. It landed in the private pipeyard. Actually, it didn't damage anything other than the helicopter itself," DPS trooper John Sampa said.

Officials are now asking all witnesses to contact them for interviews. The chopper was almost totally consumed by the fire that occurred when it crashed, and every bit of information matters.

"They're the ones who saw that. They are the absolute world-class experts on what they saw. No one else saw that," explained NTSB investigator Tom Latson. "Some of the most believable and useful witnesses in my career have been small children who told us what they saw."

This helicopter will go to Dallas and be looked over inch by inch to get to the cause of the crash. The data collected here will go with it. Anyone with information should email cc@ntsb.gov.


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