Hundreds of pages of documents released Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board describe the sudden climb, sharp turn and rapid descent of the chopper in the minute before the Dec. 7 twilight crash near Lake Mead. But they don’t provide an exact cause for the incident.
The crash killed 28-year-old Lovish Bhanot and 26-year-old Anupama Bhola, who were honeymooners from India. It also killed Utica, Kan., tourists Delwin and Tamara Chapman, who were both 49 and celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.
Las Vegas pilot Landon Nield, 31, who grew up in Wyoming and Utah and was married six months earlier, was also killed.
The ride was a Sundance Helicopters Inc. “Twilight Tour,” which takes tourists over the Hoover Dam and the Las Vegas Strip at sunset. Aerial sightseeing is big business in Las Vegas, with four operators at McCarran International Airport averaging more than 1,500 passengers per day and ticket prices often starting above $200 each.
Investigators say the AS350-B2 helicopter, built in 1989, underwent routine maintenance the day before the crash.
Passengers who took a tour with Nield the same day in the same aircraft said their pilot was in a good mood, happy, and chatty, and never made them feel unsafe.
Nield’s wife told investigators her husband was getting normal sleep hours in the days before the accident, and had walked his children to the bus stop and helped her with chores before he went to work on the crash day.
In the documents, a Southern Nevada Water Authority employee near the crash site said he hear an unusual helicopter sound — similar to a pilot gunning its engine and the engine screaming or redlining — before he heard a muffled thud and saw a black plume of smoke.