Duke Air Ambulance Crash Kills 4 in North Carolina

September 13, 2017
Abram I. Bohrer

The aviation accident lawyers at Bohrer & Lukeman are following the events surrounding the tragic crash of a medical helicopter in North Carolina. On Friday, September 8th, a Duke Life Flight helicopter crashed outside Belvidere, killing all 4 onboard. This was not the only helicopter crash along the East Coast on Friday, occurring just an hour before the crash which took the life of country star Troy Gentry. In both cases, the cause remains unknown. The helicopter accident lawyers at Bohrer & Lukeman are closely monitoring the circumstances surrounding this harrowing and fatal air ambulance crash.

According to Perquimans County Sheriff Shelby White, the Eurocopter MBB BK 117C-2 helicopter, tail number N146DU, was transporting a patient from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City to Duke University Hospital on behalf of Duke University Health System Inc. in a routine transfer. At 11:45 a.m., the pilot lost control of the Eurocopter, plummeting to the ground in the unincorporated Perquimans County community, roughly 160 miles east of Raleigh, near the Virginia border.

According to North Carolina Highway Patrol, the crash occurred in a wind turbine field east of the Swamp Road and Sandy Cross Roads intersection.

“There were no reports there were any issues [with the helicopter],” said Annya Soucy, a spokeswoman for Sentara Albemarle Hospital.

Identities of 3 of the 4 victims were released on Friday following the accident. These include pilot Jeff Burke as well as flight nurses Kris Harrison, RN, and Crystal Sollinger, RN. The patient has since been identified as Mary Bartlett, 70, of Elizabeth City. The helicopter accident attorneys at Bohrer & Lukeman extend their deepest condolences to all lost in this unfortunate disaster.

“Today is a tragic loss of all of us,” said Kevin Sowers, president of Duke University Hospital. “The men and women of our Life Flight program know when they go to work everyday that there are risks in taking off. Yet they go because they’re committed to saving lives. That’s an incredible part of our mission.”

According to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen, the National Transportation Safety Board is officially heading the investigation to determine the cause of the crash. As a photograph featured in local newspaper the Outer Banks Voice shows, the weather at the location of the crash was clear and near-cloudless, conditions that would be appropriated for flying under “visual flight rules”. This means it is likely that the investigation into the incident will reveal the cause to be related to either mechanical and/or pilot error.

Duke has grounded all helicopter flights between hospitals until further notice.

Duke Life Flight was founded in 1985 as an emergency transport service between hospitals, the first operation of its kind. It maintains two twin-engine Eurocopter EC145 air ambulances at any given time. This crash was the 10th fatal helicopter crash in the United States in 2017 alone, and the second to involve a Eurocopter air ambulance. In May, a Eurocopter EC135 belonging to the University of Pennsylvania went down outside New Castle, Delaware, killing the pilot after hurtling to the ground. It was a training flight.

This is also the second Duke helicopter involved in a fatal crash since the program’s founding. In October 2000, an air ambulance en route to Alamance Regional Medical Center in Burlington experiencing mechanical problems, causing pilot John A. Holland to lose control of the aircraft. Holland was killed in the impact.

“The crashes of air ambulances has become a matter of significant concern,” stated helicopter injury lawyer Abe Bohrer. “We have seen an epidemic of these crashes around the United States over the last several years. All aspect of the manner in which these aircraft operate should come under greater federal scrutiny,” stated Bohrer from his New York office. “We are seeing the loss of both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft resulting from everything to poor weather, inadequate training and negligent maintenance. Yes, these brave folks provide a valuable and often heroic service to many citizens, but at a very high cost of lives. We need to reassess the missions they are flying and whether management is putting these flight crews into dangerous situations.”

The aviation accident lawyers at Bohrer & Lukeman will continue to follow the events surrounding the Duke medical helicopter crash and will report any new information as it is released on this website. The New York-based flight injury law firm and its founder, Abe Bohrer, have successfully represented passengers injured and/or killed in air ambulance and other aviation accidents for over 25 years, both domestically and internationally.