NTSB begins investigation into helicopter crash

National Transportation Safety Board investigators have started piecing together the cause of the weekend helicopter crash that killed William Zeman, of Juneau.

Bad weather prevented a visit to the accident site until Tuesday. Senior Air Safety Investigator Clint Johnson says the ERA helicopter went down about six miles southwest of Iliamna.

“We spent most of the day there, documented the accident scene and we are in the process of working with the operator to get all the parts and pieces and the wreckage moved back into Iliamna,” Johnson said. “Then the engine and some other parts and pieces will be shipped to Anchorage and we will be doing more testing as time goes on.”

He says the helicopter engine will eventually be sent to an NTSB lab in Texas for testing of possible mechanical issues.

The 66-year-old pilot was the only person onboard the helicopter. Johnson said Zeman had been headed to Anchorage and had made refueling stops in Unalakleet and Bethel. He planned to spend the night in Iliamna.

ERA’s GPS and web-based tracking system received a final signal from the helicopter about 8 p.m. Saturday. Searchers found the wreckage on Sunday. Zeman’s body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy.

While the weather at the time of the crash is not known, Johnson says snow showers had been moving through the area. He says NTSB meteorologists are doing a weather study.

Johnson expects to issue a preliminary report in the next few days, but the cause of the crash likely will not be known for several months.

Zeman was the company’s most senior pilot and had been with ERA Helicopters for 39 years.