Photo: Oneida County Sheriff's Department, April 2018

By Shereen Siewert

The pilot in a 2018 fatal medical helicopter crash in northern Wisconsin was unresponsive moments before the crash, while crew members repeatedly called his name, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report released this week.

The April 26 crash killed the pilot, 34-year-old Rico Caruso of Hazelhurst, 30-year-old flight nurse Klint Mitchell of Watersmeet, Michigan, and 43-year-old paramedic Greg Rosenthal of Mosinee. No patients were on board.

According to the operator, Air Methods Corporation, the pilot and the medical crew members transported a patient from the Howard Young Medical Center Heliport in Woodruff to the Merrill Municipal Airport that day, departing at about 6 p.m. and arriving at about 6:20 p.m. The helicopter then departed Merrill about 13 minutes later with another patient on board, landing in Madison at about 7:37 p.m. After offloading the patient, the helicopter refueled at Dane County Regional Airport in Madison before heading back, the report states.

At about 9:04 p.m., the pilot radioed the operator to report that the helicopter was ready to depart Madison. According to the helicopter’s onboard system that records images, audio and parametric data, no anomalies were detected in the preflight check of the helicopter, though the audio picked up “yawning” and “sighs,” the report states.

Shortly after takeoff, the report states, one of the crew members asked the pilot if he was “alright up there.” He responded: “uhhhh think so. Good enough to get us home at least,” according to the NTSB report.

But by about 10:45 p.m., the helicopter began banking sharply to the right, prompting the crew to as, “What are we doing?” and to call out the pilot’s name – with no response.

The report shows the aircraft rolled more than 270 degrees before crashing. No one survived, and all three people on board died on impact and search crews found the victims early the next morning.

Investigators looked into how much rest the pilot had gotten before the flight, but drew no conclusions in the final report. A toxicology test showed the pilot was not impaired by alcohol.

A download of flight data found no light or audio warnings that would indicate a mechanical malfunction. Additionally, there was no recorded evidence of a bird strike.