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The NTSB has released its preliminary findings in a helicopter crash in Green Cove Springs, Florida that killed three people on their way to pick up a heart for a transplant.
The report says the aircraft, a Bell 206B, collided with trees during the flight near Green Cove Springs. The copter was just 12 miles northeast of Palatka Municipal Airport.
According to preliminary radar and communication data from the Federal Aviation Administration, Smith contacted Jacksonville approach at 5:49 a.m. to ask about the status of restricted airspace. At 5:50 a.m., the controller replied the restricted areas were inactive, and the pilot acknowledged the transmission. No further communications were received from the helicopter. During the flight, the helicopter's altitude varied between 200 and 700 feet mean sea level. The last radar target was recorded at 5:53 a.m., about 1 mile north of the accident site, indicating an altitude of 300 feet. The pilot never sent a distress call.
A debris field began with several trees that were severed by breaks at descending altitudes. The debris field was approximately 320 feet long by 70 feet wide. The copter first hit and severed a 50-foot-tall tree at about 30 feet above the ground. The main wreckage was found 175 feet along the debris path. About 80 percent of the wreckage destroyed in a post-crash fire. Sections of the skids, tailboom, main rotor blades, and engine were identified.
The airframe and engine were later taken to a Georgia salvage facility for further examination. It may be a year to 18 months before NTSB completes the report on what caused the crash.