Duke Life Flight Helicopter Crashes; Pilot Killed (See Update Below)
DURHAM, NC - A Duke University Medical Center Life Flight
helicopter crashed early Tuesday in Burlington during a
maintenance test flight. The pilot, who was the only person on
board, was killed.
The Alamance County sheriff's office identified the pilot as
John Holland, 39, of Hillsborough. He was an employee of
Corporate Jets Inc. of Pittsburgh, which operated and
maintained the aircraft for Duke. The accident is under
investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Duke Life Flight officials said the seven-year-old
Eurocopter Twinstar helicopter was reported down at 12:05 a.m.
EDT about a mile and a half from the Alamance Regional
Hospital. There were no initial reports of any casualties on
The Life Flight helicopter was on a mission to the hospital
to pick up a patient to be flown to Duke Hospital when the
pilot noted an issue that required a maintenance check after
landing, officials said. The rest of the crew took the patient
by Duke Life Care ground ambulance to Duke.
The aircraft then took off at 11:49 p.m. Monday, officials
Duke's Life Flight air ambulance service began in
1985. This was the first fatal crash.
Duke operates two helicopters and together, they have
transported approximately 1,200 critically ill patients a
UPDATE: HELICOPTER CLEARED FOR FLIGHT BEFORE CRASH
A mechanic found no problems with a warning light that had
been activated during a Duke University Medical Center Life
Flight mission and cleared the helicopter for takeoff prior to
its crash in Burlington early Tuesday, said an official of
Corporate Jets Inc., of Pittsburgh, which operates and
maintains the aircraft for Duke.
The pilot, John A. Holland, 39, of Hillsborough, was killed
in the accident, which occurred near a residential area.
Holland, who was married with three children, was the only
person on board.
Larry Pietropaulo, the executive vice president of Corporate
Jets, said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that it
appears that Holland, an experienced helicopter pilot, took
evasive measures to avoid hitting any homes.
The accident is under investigation by the National
Transportation Safety Board. It is unknown when a cause of the
accident may be determined.
At the news conference, officials from Duke Hospital and
Corporate Jets said Life Flight received a request Monday
evening to transfer a critically ill patient from Alamance
Regional Medical Center to Duke. Just prior to landing at the
Burlington hospital, a light came on indicating low
transmission oil pressure, Pietropaulo said. After the
helicopter landed, a Corporate Jets maintenance person was
called to Alamance Regional to check out the warning light.
Meanwhile, the rest of the helicopter crew, including
nurses, transported the patient by ambulance to Duke.
The maintenance worker inspected the transmission oil
pressure light, Pietropaulo said, and cleared the helicopter
for takeoff. The 7-year-old European Twinstar helicopter
crashed about a mile and a half from Alamance Regional at 12:05
a.m. Tuesday, officials said.
Pietropaulo added it is not all that unusual for a warning
light to falsely come on.
Holland worked as a pilot for Corporate Jets for seven
years, including the last five years at Duke. Prior to that, he
was in charge of the U.S. Marine's search and rescue detail at
Cherry Point, N.C. Pietropaulo called Holland a "fully
qualified and very experienced pilot" who had no prior
Duke has temporarily suspended its Life Flight service to
give the staff time to grieve, said Edward Eroe, assistant
operating officer of emergency services at Duke. Other air
ambulance services in the area have agreed to assist Duke in
the transport of patients until Duke resumes flights.
Duke owns the helicopter that crashed, and it will be
replaced by a Corporate Jets helicopter that was used when the
other aircraft underwent maintenance, officials said.
Duke's Life Flight air ambulance service, begun in 1985,
currently operates two helicopters. The service has flown more
than 27,000 missions, and Tuesday's accident marks only the
second crash. The first crash, in 1986, resulted in no
Life Flight transports about 1,200 patients a year.
Michael D. Israel, chief executive officer of Duke Hospital,
said that pastoral and other services will be offered to
Holland's family as well as to Duke Hospital and Corporate Jets
"Though John was an employee of Corporate Jets, he was also
a very treasured member of the Duke family," Israel said. "We
mourn his loss. We also ask for your prayers and support for
the pilot's family and for our Life Flight and Life Care teams
as they cope with the tragedy while continuing to perform the
job that they do so well."
Funeral arrangements were still incomplete on Tuesday, but a
memorial service will be held on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Church
of the Good Shepherd, 3741 Garrett Rd., Durham. The family said
that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Duke
Children's Fund or to the Trinity School of Durham/Chapel