Benoit Pin 04-15-08
Thomas E. Middleton
Joseph C. O'Donnell
Michael D. Seward

Bumped lever may have caused 2008 chopper crash
4 DEAD: Teen accidentally bumped lever with pack in 2008 accident off Glenn.

By JAMES HALPIN,, Published: February 25th, 2010

A helicopter crash in 2008 that killed four may have been caused by the sole survivor, a teenager not authorized to be aboard the aircraft whose pack accidentally bumped a lever, according to a new report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The Era Helicopters Eurocopter AS350 B2 went down about a mile off the Glenn Highway near Sheep Mountain on April 15, 2008, just a minute after taking off, according to the NTSB.

Neither state officials nor Era officials knew the youth, Quinn Ellington, 14 at the time, was aboard as the helicopter transported the state employees, including the teenager's stepfather, to work on a telecommunications site, according to the report prepared by NTSB investigator Larry Lewis.

The report says Ellington was in the front left seat, sitting next to the pilot, and that he had a shoulder pack about a foot across. In an interview with investigators, Ellington said he didn't remember where he put the pack. But crash investigators found it ejected two feet in front of the helicopter, along with a window that broke loose.

The report suggests the youth's pack, left unsecured between the pilot and the teenager, may have pushed the fuel flow control lever into the emergency position. The lever was on the floor of the helicopter, near the youth's feet, the report says.

In an interview Thursday, Lewis said he was able to conclude the lever had been moved in midflight. The purpose of the lever is to give the helicopter a sudden boost in power if it needs a quick lift, but it cannot be sustained unchecked by the pilot without causing the engine's RPMs to rev to dangerous levels, Lewis said.

"If it's inadvertently placed in that position by interference with the fuel controls unbeknownst to the pilot, by the time he is able to identify the cause of the over speed, or the indications that he's getting, it may be too late," Lewis said. "So he's behind the power curve, loses the engine and essentially has no airspeed, no altitude, and just really, really bad terrain underneath."

An over speed can be caused by mechanical problems, but a post-accident examination of the helicopter found no such problems, Lewis said.

The helicopter's free turbine blades are designed to shred at about 62,374 RPMs as a safety precaution, and a post-accident examination revealed the crashed helicopter's blades had shredded, he said. That means the craft would no longer have any thrust.

It appeared that the pilot had tried to check the RPMs by shutting down the engine but didn't have time, Lewis said.

"(Ellington) said the next thing he remembered was feeling like he was falling, and that the pilot told everyone to 'hold on because they were going to crash,' " according to the NTSB report. "(Ellington) said after the crash he remembered being told to get out of the helicopter because 'they' thought there might be a fire."

Killed in the crash were Era pilot Benoit Pin, 39, Thomas E. Middleton, 46, of Anchorage; Joseph C. O'Donnell, 47, of Girdwood; and the teen's stepfather, Michael D. Seward, 37, of Palmer. The passengers all worked for the state Department of Administration Enterprise Technology Systems.

Ellington was rescued roughly 200 feet downhill from the crash site. He had been out in the frigid weather for at least 20 hours and waded through waist-deep snow to a creek bed.

He suffered serious head trauma in the crash and said he doesn't recall a lot of about it, according to the report. While he was in the hospital, Ellington kept telling his mother, Teri Seward, that he was responsible for the accident, the report says. Seward, speaking by phone to Lewis, asked whether the pilot might have let Ellington fly the helicopter, according to the report.

When interviewed by investigators, however, Ellington did not explain why he said he was responsible, according to the report.

Seward declined to comment Thursday, directing questions to her Seattle-based lawyer, Joe Stacey. Reached Thursday night, Stacey said the family didn't have an immediate comment on the report but would likely discuss it next week.

The NTSB plans to release its probable cause report on the accident next month.

Find James Halpin online at or call him at 257-4589. Daily News reporter Rindi White contributed to this story.