Report: Witnesses to fatal Duke Life Flight crash saw ‘smoke,’ heard ‘popping noise’

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Witnesses reported seeing smoke and hearing a “popping noise” before a Duke Life Flight helicopter crashed, killing four people on September 8, a preliminary report shows.


The helicopter crashed around 11:45 a.m. after leaving Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, authorities said.

Four people — the pilot, two flight nurses and a patient — were on the helicopter when it crashed in a field on a wind turbine farm in Hertford, according to officials.

The three workers who died were flight nurses Kris Harrison, R.N. and Crystal Sollinger, R.N. and, the pilot, Jeff Burke, officials said.

The patient who died has been identified as Mary Bartlett.


According to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board, multiple witnesses reported seeing smoke trailing behind the helicopter while it was in flight.

The report states that witnesses described the smoke as “heavy” or “dark,” while others reported the color as “black,” “dark blue” or “blue.”

One witness reported that the helicopter was “hovering” and “not travelling forward” while it was a “couple of hundred feet” above the wind turbine farm. Another witness reported hearing a “popping noise.” The report states that he then observed the helicopter turn left, then right. It then descended quickly and appeared “in control” with the rotors turning before he lost sight of it.

The helicopter burst into flames upon crashing into the field, authorities said.

The NTSB report also shows that the helicopter was equipped with an on-board audio and video recording system.

According to the NTSB, the helicopter was thermally damaged, but the memory device survived the crash. The unit was sent to the NTSB vehicle recorder laboratory for examination.

The report reveals that a significant amount of the helicopter survived the crash intact. The helicopter was kept for examination by the NTSB.

The crash is still under investigation.

Click here to read the full preliminary report compiled by the NTSB.

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