Deadly news helicopter crash likely caused by shaky inspections, leading to loose parts, feds say

May 3, 2024, 2:46 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Investigators found disconnected and missing hardware aboard a helicopter that crashed in 2022, killing the pilot and a North Carolina television station’s meteorologist, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB’s final report on the 2022 crash, which was released Thursday, said the probable cause was inadequate inspections by the pilot and maintenance personnel, resulting in an eventual loosening of the hardware and subsequent loss of helicopter control.

WBTV meteorologist Jason Myers and pilot Chip Tayag died after the Robinson R44 helicopter crashed along a Charlotte-area interstate. The purpose of the flight was to provide video training for the meteorologist over a simulated news scene, according to the NTSB report. About five minutes into the flight, the helicopter began a series of 360-degree turns over Interstate 77, but during the third turn, it entered a steep descent, then crashed in a grassy area next to the highway, according to the report.

An examination of the flight controls revealed that hardware that should have been connected to a part on the main rotor was disconnected and the connecting hardware was missing, according to the report. An examination of remaining components suggested that the connecting hardware backed out during the flight, the report said. The report concluded that it is unlikely that the hardware was secure before the flight, and it may have been loose for multiple flights before the crash.

Examination of the remaining hardware found that one piece was installed backwards, most likely during an overhaul about three years before the crash. Inspection of the hardware was required by the pilot during each preflight inspection and during the most recent 100-hour inspection in October 2022, according to the report.

Maintenance records also showed that a Robinson Helicopter Company service letter instructing operators to replace certain nuts because of corrosion and cracking issues had not been complied with, according to the report.

In March 2023, Myers’ wife, Jillian Ann Myers, sued maintenance facility Wilson Air Center-North Carolina, the Total Traffic and Weather Network and iHeartMedia. Meyers worked for WBTV, and Tayag worked for the Total Traffic and Weather Network, which is owned by parent company iHeartMedia, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges negligence and claims the helicopter was running on contaminated fuel, which can lead to engine failure. It also says the pilot didn’t perform flight inspections and emergency engine failure procedures adequately. It argues the company that owned the aircraft is liable for those mistakes.

Reached by telephone on Friday, Kansas City, Missouri-based aviation attorney Gary C. Robb, who is representing the Myers family, called the maintenance errors “egregious” and said there were multiple opportunities for them to be caught. He said the family hopes to shine a light on this and other maintenance errors and “move the needle towards more safety.”

WBTV, iHeart Media and Wilson Air Center-North Carolina did not immediately respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment on the report.

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Deadly news helicopter crash likely caused by shaky inspections, leading to loose parts, feds say