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Sketchy helipad may have caused fatal accident

Alaska Dispatch

According to a preliminary investigative report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) the fatal early August helicopter accident in Alaska's Interior, was likely due to a makeshift landing pad. The helicopter was providing support to the operations at Pogo Mine, a gold prospect 38 miles Northeast of Delta Junction, Alaska, when the accident took place.

On Monday, the NTSB investigation reported that the MD 600N helicopter crashed after setting down on a damaged homemade log landing pad. The remote improvised landing platform was constructed of interlaced logs nailed together with railroad-type spikes and set on a hillside surrounded forest.

According to the report, the Aurora Aviation Services Inc. craft was piloted by 63-year-old James Hopper, of Missouri, who was fatally injured in the mishap.

Hopper was contacted for a pickup the afternoon of Aug. 7. As Hopper approached the pad everything looked fine, a witness told the NTSB. But as soon as the copter touched down the craft tipped up and back, pitching the craft into nearby trees, before it rolled some 100 ft. down the hill and landed with its engine still running.

A second witness said he saw that a log toward the back edge of the pad had moved during the touch-down and that "the long spike that attaches the log to the foundation was pulled out," displacing the log.

The NTSB's preliminary report will likely be followed by a factual report and a probable cause report from the full safety board.

The preliminary report is the first local investigators' report to be issued detailing the crash.