NTSB Releases Final Report of 2018 Medical Helicopter Crash in Hazelhurst

Sep 23, 2020

Credit DEAN S. ACHESON PHOTO

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its final aviation accident report for the Ascension Spirit Air Helicopter crash in Hazelhurst more than two years ago.

Three people died in the crash.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the crash to be the pilot’s fatigue.

On April 26, 2018, the Ascension Spirt Air medical helicopter was returning to its base in Woodruff after dropping off a patient in Madison around 9:00 that night.

Shortly after taking off, the on-board recorder recorded a conversation with the pilot and the two medical crewmembers. The pilot asked if the medical crew was “alright back there?” One responded “yup”. One responded, “question is are you alright up there?”. The pilot responded, “uhh think so. Good enough to get us home at least.”

The pilot and crewmembers had a few more conversations throughout the flight. The last time the pilot’s voice was heard was bout 10:30.

The NTSB said the pilot made movements like adjusting his legs and arms, adjusting his seating position, and changing cyclic position. NTSB said those are all signs consistent with fatigue.

Just before 10:45 p.m. the in-helicopter camera shows the pilot slumped to the left as the helicopter starting to roll to the right. The crewmembers on-board shouted at the pilot but got no response. The helicopter crashed shortly after that.

In the two years that followed, the NTSB gathered video, photographs, and audio recordings of the crash. It also interviewed people connected to the helicopter and the crew.

The pilot’s wife told the NTSB that he wasn’t having any issues sleeping the night before or the days leading up to the crash. The NTSB didn’t find the amount of time since waking up that morning to be excessive. The report indicates his circadian rhythm may have been off. This was his first flight since returning from a week-long vacation in a different time zone.

The NTSB found no mechanical malfunction that would have caused the crash. The pilot’s actions did not indicate he suffered from a medical condition that would have caused his incapacitation.

With all of this evidence, the NTSB determined the probable cause to be the pilot’s loss of helicopter control as a result of fatigue during the flight.

Air methods pilot, Rico Caruso, 34, of Hazelhurst, medical personnel, Gregory Rosenthal, 43, of Mosinee and Klint Mitchell, 30, of Watersmeet, MI died in the crash.

WXPR reached out to Acension Wisconsin. It declined an interview out of respect for the families. It did release for the following statement:

“We continue to keep our thoughts and prayers for the families, friends and associates as we remember the talents and dedicated service of Rico, Klint and Greg to our organization,” said Ted Ryan, Director, Ascension Wisconsin Spirit Medical Transport. “We have cooperated fully with this investigation and are grateful that it has concluded with the hope that this will bring a sense of closure to this tragedy for all those impacted. We will never forget our lost colleagues and continue to provide a variety of resources for our associates across the region to meet their emotional and spiritual needs.”