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Vegas tour helicopter climbed, turned before crashing, NTSB says

December 13, 2011 |  1:08 pm

The National Transportation Safety Board released its initial report on the recent helicopter crash outside Las Vegas that killed five people
Federal investigators are looking into why a sightseeing helicopter flying toward Hoover Dam outside Las Vegas suddenly climbed and turned before slamming into a narrow ravine, killing the pilot and four passengers.

In the final minute before last week's crash, the tour helicopter shot up 600 feet, turned left, dropped 800 feet and turned left again, radar records indicate. It then plummeted into a ravine and burst into flames, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report released Tuesday. 

The brief summary of evidence, which draws no conclusions as to the crash's cause, is a prelude to a final report that could take up to a year to complete.

The day before the crash, federal investigators have said, the Eurocopter AS350 had its engine and mechanical control devices replaced as part of routine maintenance. On Dec. 7, the helicopter, operated by tour company Sundance Helicopters, departed from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and flew a route to Hoover Dam that all tour operators use.

"Up to the last minute, it was all standard tour operating procedure," NTSB board member Mark Rosekind told reporters last week. "At the last minute, things changed. Why? We don't know."

Killed in the crash were the pilot, Landon Nield, 31, and two visiting couples. Lovish Bhanot, 28, and Anupama Bhola, 26, of India were on their honeymoon. Delwin and Tamara Chapman of Kansas, both 49, were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

Sundance was involved in another fatal crash in 2003, when one of its helicopters hit a canyon wall near the Grand Canyon, killing the pilot and six passengers.


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--Ashley Powers in Las Vegas

Photo: A Las Vegas police helicopter carries investigators to the site of a deadly helicopter crash near Hoover Dam. Credit: Steve Marcus / Las Vegas Sun / Reuters