Mid-air collision kills two in Weyer's Cave

news-snap-copter-cropThe helicopter was photographed over Charlottesville in July. PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER

The two occupants of a single-engine Cessna airplane are dead after after a mid-air collision with a medevac helicopter near the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in the Augusta County community of Weyers Cave.

Jacob H. Kiser, 19, of the Rockingham County town of Grottoes, and Jason A. Long, 32, of the Shenandoah County town of Edinburg, died at the scene, according to a State Police release.

Police say the accident occurred at 2:27pm Friday, December 31 as the helicopter, known as "AirCare 5," was returning to its base at the Airport after taking a patient to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. Although one skid on the copter was damaged, it landed with no injury to the occupants, a pilot and two medical personnel.

The four-seat Cessna Skyhawk, however, suffered serious damage and crashed. State police have notified both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, and investigators from both agencies have arrived on the scene.

The medevac craft, a 2005 Eurocopter, is owned by a firm called PHI, Inc. which operates across the U.S. and 43 foreign countries. On board was pilot Paul Weve, co-pilot and flight nurse Joseph Root, and flight nurse Carolyn Booke.

According to an updated release, the 1967 Cessna was registered to Michael Price of Elkton, but Price was not aboard the plane when it crashed.

Media accounts from Staunton and Waynesboro indicate that Long was a flight instructor with a history of All-American track success from his days as a JMU student. Kiser was a described as intelligent freshman at Hampden-Sydney College near Farmville. The reports suggest that various witnesses on the ground some aspect of what happened.

There's no official word yet on what caused the collision. However, it comes just 17 months after an eerily similar incident in New York that could provide some insights. On August 8, 2009, a single-engine Piper overtook and struck a tourist helicopter as the two craft were flying south along the Hudson River. The three people on the plane and the six aboard the copter died when the wreckage plummeted into the River.

As in the Shenandoah collision, the New York crash occurred mid-day under clear skies. Investigations by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board produced a variety of blames including mixed messages regarding the culpability of an air-traffic controller whose delay in providing radio information to the plane has been ascribed to two personal phone calls he conducted in defiance of federal rules.

An Italian tourist on a tour boat captured the entire Hudson River incident on video, a surreal situation given the extensive experience of the pilots involved as well as the day's good weather and clear visibility.

As it turned out, the Hudson crash appeared to be largely a case of each craft traveling in each other's blind spot over a waterway where both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters would routinely operate in the same airspace. The NTSB post-mortem cited not only the controller's personal phone calls but also "the inherent limitations of the see-and-avoid concept."

A working group convened after the accident issued a recommendation for northbound traffic hug one shore and southbound traffic hug the other. Other rules in the wake of the Hudson collision included standardizing radio frequencies, enacting a 140-knot speed limit, and requiring pilots to activate anti-collision devices.

Central Virginia flight instructor Skip Degan, who occasionally shoots aerial photographs for the Hook, notes that a key difference in this investigation is the ability of investigators to interview survivors, the three on board the helicopter.

"The investigation would normally take a year or so to put together," says Degan, "but with eyewitnesses on board and on the ground it will be expedited. This will enable the NTSB to more readily determine the probable cause of the accident."

Like the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, the Shenandoah airport has a paved runway that's about 6,000 feet long. But there's a critical difference: Shenandoah has no control tower. Taking off and landing at such an "uncontrolled airport" puts the burden on the pilots to see and avoid traffic.

Degan suggests, though he concedes it's just speculation at this point, that the position of the low winter sun may have played a role. "Taking off on Runway 23 at that time of the day may well have obscured the forward visibility of the two in the [airplane]," says Degan, "where the helicopter may have been in their field of vision."

–updated 8:34am January 1, 2011 with ownership information and 6:36pm with names of the deceased and then again at 9:02pm with a little discussion about the 2009 Hudson collision. Updated yet again at 9:16am January 2 with Degan perspective and again at 1:11pm with info about the deceased.


Something unrelated to this crash you should know about Cessna aircraft fuel tanks:
Cessna undetectable water in the fuel tanks the pilot cannot positively detect during the preflight of the aircraft.
Read NTSB Safety recommendation A-83-6
Read FAA Safety Recomendations 91.283 and 91.284
Read SAIB CE-10-40R1 about trying to prevent water from getting into the fuel tanks. Prevention is real good, but positive detection and elimination of it during the preflight is much better just in case prevention has failed. Sabotage comes to mind.
Read WSJ Air and Water: FAA Tests Put Cloud Over Cessna's Revival Of Single-Engine Planes By Jerry Guidera April 30, 2001
Why did Cessna stop single engine production in 1986?
Why did NTSB close Safety Recommendation A-83-6 in 1986? Why did NTSB mark it as "CLOSED BUT UNACCEPTABLE"?
Why has the NTSB ignored undetectable water in Cessna aircraft for well over two decades, allowing pilots and passengers to die?
Why did Cessna come out with SEB92-25 in 1992? Was 1992 the same year Textron bought Cessna?
Why was GARA passed in 1994 limiting Cessna liability for their aircraft?
Why did Cessna then restart production of single engine aircraft in 1996?
Why did Cessna new production aircraft come with thirteen sump drains?
Could the answer lie in a simple real world test pouring red dyed water into any Cessna fuel tank in its normal ground attitude and then not positively detecting it at any sump drains?

Taking off from and landing on airports without operating control towers places a huge reponsibility on the individual pilots to maintain seperation from other aircraft. Having to take on this additional responsibility while dealing with controlling the aircraft during takeoff and landing can be an impossible task. Also if we add into the mix the physiological fact of blind spots in the human eye and the blind spots caused by the design of a particular aircraft it is easy to understand how mid-air collisions can occur. It is also a well known fact in the general aviation community that a large majority of mid-air collisions and near mid-air collisions take place in the vicinity of uncontrolled airports.

All pilots receive training on operations into and out of uncontrolled airports and the increased danger of mid-air collisions during these operations. It is interesting to note that both aircraft involved in the Virginia fatal mid-air collision involved two pilots in each aircraft which would normally make this type of accident less likely.

just how does a copter hit a plane and not see it coming what up with that .I dont understand does the airport not have communication towers how does this happen at such a small airport what a waste to life and a very sad end to a bad year in americamy prayers go out to the family of these people god bless you all

WUSA9news is reporting that:

" Virginia State Police who are investigating the crash say Price was not on the plane when it crashed. "

My daughter calls this the "bubble bee" helicopter.

We've watched it land at the UVA helipad many times.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters told WUSA9 news: " Peters says the Cessna registration is N2876L -- registered to a Michael W. Price of 18375 Red Brush Road, Elkton, Va "

That's a very sad way to end the year.

I remember watching a documentary on plane safety and they demonstrated just how hard it can be to see other aircraft depending upon the sun, speed, direction, color etc. It was notable for me saying, "Wow, I thought it would be easy to see someone up in the sky and move to your right..." But is was not so. Mix in any sort of distractions such as adrenaline going down after a strong urgency flight or people in a small cockpit and it is actually surprising that more of this does not happen.

Also not out of the realm is the simple idea that a small plane and a regional airport might not have the highest or latest safety equipment occurring.

If the weather is VFR, it is the responsibility of both PICs to see and be seen. People who are not pilots have no understanding of this problem and the media feeds their ignorance with bad and incomplete information.

Experienced pilots have no trouble whatever in managing the operation of the aircraft while watching for traffic. "Blind spots" are overcome by maintaining a scan. The notion that a tower renders air space safer in VFR conditions is just wrong-headed. It is always the responsibility of the PIC to watch for traffic, especially when controllers either ignore traffic or do not spot it and fail to alert pilots in the area.