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Stony Ridge Helicopter Crash Kills Two

The initial stage of a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into a helicopter crash in Stony Ridge, Ohio, is underway, but authorities say it will likely take about a year to identify the cause of the crash. Two men, one from Ohio and one from West Virginia, were killed in the January 15, 2018, accident. Both worked for a contractor working with FirstEnergy and were on a work-related flight at the time.

Work-related helicopter crashes are not uncommon in the U.S., and the manufacturer of the helicopter that crashed has been the subject of aviation lawsuits regarding general negligence and product liability in the past.

9-1-1 Call Reported Downed Helicopter in Ohio 

Thirty-two-year-old Tyson Snyder was piloting the McDonnell-Douglas 369 helicopter on the morning of January 15, with 62-year-old Jeffrey Fluharty riding alongside. The men were flying not far from the Ohio Turnpike in Troy Township as they inspected energy lines.

Snyder had not been communicating with air traffic controllers in the area-nor had he been required to do so-and so the alert to trouble came from a crash witness.

The witness, a resident of a home in the area, happened to be looking out the window at the time of the crash. He, "just saw the helicopter come down out of the sky and hit the ground," according to Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, whose office responded to the crash site. The helicopter made contact in a snow-covered field near Pemberville Road.

Nine-one-one recordings have been posted by WTOL 11 and in them, a distressed caller identified as Scott tells the emergency service that "there's a downed helicopter in a field." He goes on to say that the aircraft is upside down. NTSB officials report the distress call coming in at 10:40 a.m. It is unclear what time the two men took flight.

No Sign of Fire or Visible Cause in Initial Investigation into McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Crash 

The Wood County Sheriff's Office responded to the Stony Ridge helicopter crash after the 9-1-1 call and found no clear answer as to what went wrong. Sheriff Wasylyshyn said in a statement that there appeared to be no fire or flames and no indication of the helicopter running into utility lines.

Investigators from the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were dispatched to the scene, while personnel from the Wood County Sheriff's Office performed their initial investigation and kept an eye on the crash site.

"We will secure the scene. We are taking initial measurements," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said. "The NTSB will haul off the helicopter and do their dissecting to try to determine the cause."

The Sheriff added that there would be "at least one deputy on scene 24/7 until they come and remove the helicopter."

NTSB Gives Initial Briefing on Stony Ridge Helicopter Crash 

Jennifer Rodi, an NTSB senior air safety investigator, spoke to the press on January 16, 2018, about the agency's investigation into the crash. Rodi was quick to tell those gathered that the full investigation and final findings were likely far off.

"We do not rush our process," Rodi said, explaining that they sought to be thorough in the investigation and that it could be a year before the official report is released. A preliminary report is expected within seven days.

NTSB investigators reached the accident site at approximately 8:00 a.m. that day and had begun work on the scene when Rodi held her briefing.

Among the initial observations were:

  • "Witness marks" at the crash site that were consistent with the helicopter impacting belly down at a "fairly level attitude" before rolling onto its left side.
  • A lack of damage to the main rotor system, a likely indicator that there was minimal rotation and power on the main rotors when the helicopter crashed.
  • Area reports of snow during or around the time of the Stony Ridge helicopter crash. Snow was on the ground in the area the helicopter came to a rest.
  • The McDonnell-Douglas 369 was of a "1960s vintage."
  • There was noticeable fuel at the crash site.
  • Snyder likely had 1 to 1.5 miles of visibility when the crash occurred.

NTSB investigators will pursue all angles to find what caused thecrash, including the helicopter and its equipment, weather, and the pilot's physical condition and expertise. Officials will examine the MD-369 wreckage in an NTSB facility in Tennessee and will look for any type of recording device-including flight data recorders-to glean further information.

Two Men Aboard Were Inspecting Power Lines at Time of Helicopter Crash 

FirstEnergy released a statement on the Stony Ridge helicopter crash, identifying the men as employees of a contractor the utility company had hired to inspect their lines:

The two men who were tragically killed today in a helicopter crash were FirstEnergy contractors doing transmission line inspection work. Their employer is still in the process of notifying family members. FirstEnergy would like to express our sincere condolences to their families and fellow workers.

The utility company did not identify the contractor, but reports indicate the helicopter was owned by Vista 1, Inc. an Ohio company whose website says they do "aerial utility inspections."

Pilot Had Served in Iraq 

Snyder was a Marine for eight years before becoming a helicopter pilot in his home state of Ohio. During that time, he was positioned in both Iraq and Afghanistan, according to his family. Once he was back in Wooster, where he grew up, Snyder trained to fly helicopters and secured his job inspecting power lines.

"He really loved it and he was good at his job, he was good at flying helicopters," Julie Snyder, Tyson Snyder's mother, said in an interview with Fox8. "It was his passion and he got to fulfill his passion."

Kalli Hugus, Snyder's girlfriend, echoed those sentiments.

"I think the adrenaline rush, he loved the challenge and he loved being in the air and he loved the difficulty of it," Hugus remembered. "But he loved that he was good at it, I mean he worked so hard."

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