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Post Maintenance Ferry Flight is Fatal For Cochise Sheriff Helicopter Crew

Two Killed on Sheriff's Helicopter Returning Home From Glendale Az

Update 1-9-15:  The NTSB has released it's preliminary accident report on this incident. Scroll to bottom of article to read. The full accident report takes approximately 1 year to be released. 

New Year’s Eve turned deadly for the civilian helicopter pilot and mechanic who were on a ferry flight from Glendale Municipal Airport to the Sierra Vista Airport in Cochise County Arizona Wednesday evening.

Cochise is a border county just east of Tucson and Pima County. The county seat is Bisbee and it is also home to the infamous Tombstone Arozona.

The helicopter is operated by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office but owned by Airwest Helicopters LLC of Glendale Az. Both crew members on board the helicopter were employees of Airwest Helicopters. Airwest Helicopters LLC is based at the Glendale Municipal Airport.

The pilot has been identified as retired Glendale Police Officer Jeff Steele and his passenger as 59 year old mechanic Mark Hansen. The helicopter, known as "Coshise Air" was returning to its home airport in Cochise County after routine maintenance in Glendale.

Retired Glendale Police Officer Jeff Steele was piloting the Cochise Sheriff's helicopter that went down New Year's Eve 2014. He and the mechanic on board, Mark Hansen were fatally injured.

Steele retired from the Glendale Police Department in 2011 after 25 years of service.

The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the missing helicopter just before 7pm by officials from Airwest, who stated the helicopter had dropped off radar. Search and Rescue personnel were able to ping the pilot’s cell phone and obtain information on its location. This information was passed on to members of SAR who were in the field searching for the downed aircraft as well as the Benson Fire Department who located the crash site around 9:20 pm.

The following was excerpted for the Cochise County Sheriff's official Facebook Page;

"The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by the leasing company shortly before 7:00 pm and advised that they had lost communications with Cochise Air near the Benson area. Tracking software was activated and the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team responded to the general area along with Benson Fire and Medics in an attempt to locate the aircraft.

Search and Rescue personnel were able to trace the cell phone of the pilot which ultimately led to a more narrowed search area south of Interstate 10 outside of Benson. At approximately 9:20 pm, the Benson Fire Department advised that they had located the crash site of Cochise Air and located the two occupants (one pilot and one mechanic) who were deceased at the scene."

Photo of crash scene released by the Cochise County Sheriff's Office.

On 12-31-14 at 9:14 pm the National Weather Service issued an urgent winter storm warning for the mountains and high deserts throughout northern and eastern Arizona. The warning indicated snow levels may be as low as 2,000 feet with rain is expected in the lower elevations and rain turning to snow between 4,000' and 4,500' in elevations.

The elevation for Benson Arizona is 3,586'.

A daylight photo of the helicopter crash scene released by the Cochise County Sheriff's Office.

In at least one photo of the crash scene released by the Sheriff's Department pieces of the aircraft appeared to be covered in fresh snow. What remained of the aircraft was not immediately recognizable as a helicopter.

The Sierra Vista Airport is located approximately 150 nautical miles south east of Glendale Municipal Airport where it is believed the helicopter departed from. Benson is located approximately 45 miles south east of Tucson. The area surrounding the crash site is being described as remote.

The ill-fated helicopter has been identified as a Bell 206L4 registration No. N57AW. This helicopter replaced another Bell Jet Ranger operated by Cochise County when it lost its tail rotor in September of 2014. In that incident the pilot, Larry Pucci, was able to perform an emergency landing near Tombstone Az without injury to himself or the Deputy Sheriff TFO on board.

The Bell Jet Ranger helicopter pictured here was damaged in an emergency landing in September 2014 after losing its tail rotor. The helicopter that crashed New Year's Eve was the replacement helicopter.

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said in a statement-  "This news leaves me personally, and this organization, with a heavy heart because of the tragic loss of two incredible lives." "We have worked closely with this company and these two individuals since receiving Cochise Air and knowing that they are considered part of Sheriff's Office family makes this so much harder. We send our condolences out to the families of the two people who will truly be missed."

Below is the NTSB Preliminary Accident Report released the second week of January 2015. 

NTSB Identification: WPR15FA072

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation

Accident occurred Wednesday, December 31, 2014 in Benson, AZ

Aircraft: BELL 206, registration: N57AW

Injuries: 2 Fatal.

"This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On December 31, 2014, at 1710 mountain standard time, a Bell 206 L4, N57AW, collided with terrain 7 miles west of Benson, Arizona. The commercial pilot and pilot rated mechanic were fatally injured, and the helicopter was destroyed. The helicopter was registered to N57AW LLC, and operated by Airwest Helicopters as 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 positioning flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated on a company visual flight rules flight plan. The flight originated form Glendale, Arizona, at 1550, and was destined for Sierra Vista, Arizona.

The operator reported that the helicopter had not arrived at its destination and that the Sky Connect Tracking System indicated that the helicopter was at a stationary location between Tucson and Benson. The Cochise County Sheriff located the helicopter wreckage about 2030 at the location the Sky Connect system was reporting. The helicopter was fragmented into multiple pieces along a 174-foot-long debris path. Witnesses living in the local area reported hearing a low flying helicopter around the time of the accident, and that the visibility at ground level was very limited, with low clouds and fog."