Originally reported by The Chronicle-News on May 20:
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its final report on the fatal helicopter crash that killed five people and seriously injured one on January 17, 2018 near Raton, New Mexico.
Pilot Jamie Coleman Dodd from Trinidad, Colorado, was among the five people killed in the crash and the report states he blamed himself for the crash. “The pilot initially survived the accident but succumbed to his injuries en route to a hospital,” said the report. “A witness stated that he was with the pilot before he was loaded in the rescue helicopter and asked the pilot what happened. The pilot replied that the accident was his fault and that he had flown into terrain.”
The flight began in Raton at Crews Field and was destined for Folsom, N.M.
Zimbabwe opposition leader Roy Bennett and his wife, Heather, as well as co-pilot Paul Cobb, of Conroe, Texas, and wealthy Houston, Texas, businessman Charles Ryland Burnett were also killed. The crash’s sole survivor was the Burnett’s girlfriend and co-pilot’s daughter, Andra Cobb.
According to a statement from the co-pilot’s daughter taken by the Federal Aviation Administration, the report said, “The passenger reported that the takeoff was normal. As they were flying east, the sun had gone down, and the stars were very bright. The passenger reported no turbulence during the flight. There were no unusual noises, no observed warning lights in the cockpit, and the pilot and copilot were calm; everything appeared normal. The passenger recalled that they were in level flight and she heard a big bang as the helicopter hit the ground. After ground contact, the helicopter rolled forward coming to a stop upside down. The passenger was hanging from the seat belt, the door was not present, and jet fuel was pouring on her. She released her seat belt and egressed the helicopter. The helicopter was on fire and subsequent explosions followed. The passenger called 9-1-1 and waited for emergency responders.”
The report found trace amounts of a drug used to treat common cold and hay fever in the pilot’s blood. The report also found the pilot was not flying directly from Raton to Folsom, but was four nautical miles south of the route. The direct route would have been 450 feet lower, said the report. Also, witnesses at the Folsom ranch told investigators that the few times the pilot flew to the ranch, the pilot had mainly flown from Perry Stokes Airport, near Trinidad. The witness said “He was not familiar with how many trips the pilot would have made from RTN to the ranch, but indicated that ‘it was probably minimal’.”
The report concludes with several references to Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT). “CFIT [is] when an airworthy aircraft is flown, under the control of a qualified pilot, into terrain (water or obstacles) with inadequate awareness on the part of the pilot of the impending collision… [Another report] stated that at night, the absence of peripheral visual cues, especially below the aircraft, can give an illusion of height, and result in the pilot inadvertently flying lower than necessary… [Another article] stated that no pilot was immune from visual (spatial disorientation). Pilots with more experience tended to fly even lower than those with less experience.”