Federal investigators pored over the wreckage of a medical helicopter a day after it crash-landed without loss of life next to a church in a residential area of suburban Philadelphia, somehow avoiding a web of power lines and buildings.
Brian Rayner, senior safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters Wednesday investigators hoped to be able to remove the wreckage from the scene at Drexel Hill United Methodist Church in Upper Darby later in the day for more detailed examination off-site.
Rayner said investigators were trying to document the wreckage as found, characterizing it as “data gathering" that “won’t become information until we get it all together in one place and compare, see how things relate and see how things conflict."
Rayner said he was very grateful that the occupants were “relatively unhurt" in the 1 p.m. Tuesday crash. The pilot's injuries were most significant but the other two adults and the infant girl were “miraculously unhurt," he said. The aircraft had significant damage but in terms of evidence was “in very good shape," he said.
“I have a great deal of confidence that when we're done we'll be able to explain this accident," Rayner said. He characterized the probe as “strictly a safety investigation" currently, adding that “all the evidence we have to this point supports an accident."
Rayner said late Wednesday afternoon he had spoken with the pilot briefly but due to his injuries investigators would have to wait to speak with him in depth. The helicopter has no flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder, but investigators hope to harvest components with “valuable data," primarily on engine performance, he said.
The investigation would also look into the pilot's history and training, and aspects of the environment such as weather and terrain conditions, air traffic and communications, he said.
Chief Derrick Sawyer of the Upper Darby Township fire department confirmed that there were children in a day care associated with the church at the time of the crash. Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy M. Bernhardt repeated his belief that it was a “miracle" that there were no life-threatening injuries.