New Albion (INN) - Royal Aviation Administration investigators have been dispatched to inspect the burned wreckage of an air ambulance that crashed Saturday on a remote part of the continent.
Search crews found the wreckage yesterday and recovered the bodies of all five people who died in the crash - the pilot, co-pilot, two members of the Royal Search And Rescue Force, and a visiting member from the Hawai'ian Free State SAR. Autopsies will be performed to determine the exact cause of death.
An investigator with the Interstellar Transportation Safety Board and two from the Royal Aviation Administration met with search teams who recovered the bodies, said Viveka West of the Royal Aviation Administration.
The investigators were able to hover in to near the crash site, which was five kilometers from the Ohlsonville settlement, West said.
The crashed killed pilot Elena Rood, 41, co-pilot Roger Howell, 37, Royal SAR medics Sir Adrian Petero, 52, and Stephen Parr, 32, and HFS SAR member Akela Hala-kahiki, 28.
Hala-kahiki was the chief assistant to the HFS SAR. She was the third person to be involved with the cross-cultural training program between the New Anglian Confederation and the Hawai'ian Free State.
The combined SAR team was traveling New London to Ohlsonville in order to evacuate a 9-yr old patient when the air ambulance, a modified VT-40 Boxcar VTOL, crashed in stormy weather. The wreckage was spotted at 10:37am yesterday at the 3,600-foot elevation level of 4,500-foot tall Mt Elijah in a thick growth of bearwood trees just north of the settlement. The crash site was compact, with most of the VTOL smashed into pieces no larger than a few feet in length, according to Julie Goodbar, one of first people to find the crash site using small personal flyers.
"It looks as if they were coming in too low and smashed straight into the side of the mountain," Goodbar said.
About 14 people from the settlement worked at the site yesterday to recover the bodies, which were removed around 4pm and taken to the local medical center. Local search and rescue personnel were shuttled in by hovertrucks to within a hundred yards of the crash site and were forced to walk the rest of the way.
The last confirmed radar contact was at 2:41am Saturday when the VTOL passed behind Mt Elijah. Air field authorities at the settlement said the VTOL had veered off the normal path for air traffic inbound from New London. Those flights usually arrive from the northeast at 7,600 feet, but the Boxcar had been coming in from almost due north flying at about 5,600 feet.
One possibility is that the pilot, who radioed to ask about any thunderstorm activity in the Olhsonville area, deviated from his course to circle around Mt Elijah after encountering bad weather.
Several trees at the crash site showed signs of being hit by the VTOL, but the tail remnant, the largest piece of debris intact, was the only bit of wreckage visible from the air, Goodbar said.
"It's so difficult to see from the air that's it's amazing we found the wreckage at all," she said.
Kevin Ducca of the settlement's Royal Guards unit estimated that searchers had only a few hours, if not minutes, left to find the downed VTOL because the emergency beacon was about to die out.
Ducca was one of three Royal Guards members on board one of the SV-12 recon VTOLs based at Ohlsonville who were involved in yesterday's search. The Royal Guards located the beacon at the same time as the Goodbar's SAR team.
"If not for the beacon we probably wouldn't have found it," he said. The Boxcar was reported missing at about 4:00am Saturday, and Ducca said the electronics locating transmitter signat was not detected until 55 hours later. He said the lifetime of the transmitter's battery is about 48 hours.
He said signals typically are strong enough to be picked up by the satellite system, but the Boxcar's beacon, which activated on impact, may have been damaged, because it's signal could only be detected within a half kilometer area.
Even after the signal was picked up, the Royal Guards had difficulty finding the VTOL. Ducca said the area where the air ambulance went down had three layers of tree and brush cover.
"We didn't see anything that even looked like a VTOL", Ducca said. "We saw a couple of pieces that looked about the size of this vidscreen, a couple of white pieces^Åbut it was so think that the branches and leaves just kind of closed back over the wreck site."
Bad weather had prevented a search of the area until Monday.
Once the wreckage was spotted, a two-man crew from the settlement's SAR landed at a clearing nearby and hiked nearly half a kilometer through the forest to confirm it was the missing VTOL, said mayor of Ohlsonville Damo Samson.
As the recovery effort was underway, Armin Leyland, medical director for Albion's Air Ambulance Service, spoke with reporters at the company's headquarters, referring to the victims as "heroes." He also indicated that this was the first crash in the history of the company on this planet.
"These five individuals who have spent most of their adult lives saving lives, had to make the ultimate sacrifice," stated Leyland.
Rood was one of 15 pilots employed by Albion's Air Ambulance Service. She had been flying for eight years and had more than 10,000 hours of flight time in, said Leyland.
"She will be sorely missed," said Samson, a friend of the Rood family.
The 9-yr old boy who was to be ferried back to New London on the doomed Boxcar was flown back in another Air Ambulance Service VTOL on Monday evening. He is said to be in stable condition.