By Toni R. Milano, Elko Daily Free Press
ELKO – In the year since an American Medflight plane crashed in the Barrick parking lot off Mountain City Highway and killed four people, including a Utahn, there is still no word from the National Transportation and Safety Board on how the accident occurred.
But there has been scrutiny of Piper PA-31T planes by federal flight officials, the Elko Daily Free Press has learned.
Within a nine-month period there were three fatal crashes of that make and model of plane — one in California on July 29, 2016; the one in Elko on Nov. 18, 2016; and one in Portugal on April 17, 2017. The accident in Portugal happened shortly after take-off, killing all on board and one person on the ground.
The Piper PA-31T was the subject of an urgent safety recommendation by the NTSB in January that asked the Federal Aviation Administration to issue an airworthiness directive to correct unsafe wiring found after the California crash, which also involved a medical transport plane.
In that recommendation, the NTSB referred to the preliminary report on the crash of Piper PA-31T that took off from Crescent City and went down near the Oregon border, killing four, including the pilot, patient, paramedic and flight nurse. Authorities said the pilot had reported smoke from the cockpit and decided to turn back.
The FAA issued the airworthiness directive Feb. 22, stating it was “to correct the unsafe conditions on these products” and “was prompted by a fatal accident where evidence of thermal damage in this area was found.”
“This condition, if not corrected, could lead to electrical arcing and a possible inflight fire in an area that is not accessible by the crew,” the FFA said.
Patient Edward Clohesey, pilot Yuji Irie, paramedic Jacob Shepherd and flight nurse Tiffany Urresti died Nov. 18 when their medical transport plane went down shortly after taking off from Elko Regional Airport.
A preliminary NTSB report filed Nov. 30, 2016 said a witness at the airport noticed that “[d]uring the initial climb … the airplane made an initial left turn about 30 degrees from the runway heading, then stopped climbing and made an abrupt left bank and descended out of his line of sight.”
The report noted that there were clear skies, a temperature of 33 degrees Fahrenheit and wind direction of 110 degrees at 7 knots.
“The crash is still undergoing investigation,” an NTSB spokesman said last week. On its website, the NTSB states “the cause may not be determined 12 to 18 months after the accident.”
After the accident, Capt. Irie was praised by Elko Police Lt. Rich Genseal for maneuvering the plane toward the parking lot and avoiding populated areas and businesses.
“The plane came down in a parking lot that’s probably only several hundred feet from the apartment complex, multiple dwellings,” Genseal said at the time. Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox
City Manager Curtis Calder agreed that Irie’s actions prevented a greater tragedy that night.
“Although the City of Elko has not seen a final report from the NTSB, we believe the heroic actions of the pilot and crew members saved numerous lives on the ground,” Calder said this week.
He said the accident also highlighted the importance of emergency first responders and medical aviation services in the area.
“Emergency air medical transport services are not only an important part of our local healthcare system, but a critical aviation source,” Calder said. “As such our community was greatly impacted by last year’s American Medflight crash and the resulting loss of life.”
“We are grateful to our emergency first responders and federal officials who perform difficult work under adverse conditions,” he added.