NTSB Issues Investigative Update on Sikorsky Helicopter Crash


The National Transportation Safety Board issued an investigative update Friday for its ongoing investigation of the fatal, Jan. 26, 2020, helicopter crash near Calabasas, California.

The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter collided with hilly terrain and was destroyed by impact forces and fire. The pilot and eight passengers were fatally injured. The helicopter operated by Island Express Helicopters Inc., was on an on-demand passenger visual flight rules flight from John Wayne-Orange County Airport, in Santa Ana, California, to Camarillo Airport, in Camarillo, California.

"Our investigators have already developed a substantial amount of evidence about the circumstances of this tragic crash," said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. "And we are confident that we will be able to determine its cause as well as any factors that contributed to it so we can make safety recommendations to prevent accidents like this from occurring again.”

This NTSB still image is from a drone video duplicating the flightpath of N72EX at position/altitude of last ADS-B target. NTSB   (This NTSB still image is from a drone video duplicating the flightpath of N72EX at position/altitude of last ADS-B target. NTSB image)

According to the investigative update, all significant components of the helicopter were located within the wreckage area. Examination of the main and tail rotor assemblies found damage consistent with powered rotation at the time of impact. The initial point of impact consisted of highly fragmented cabin and cockpit debris. 

The main wreckage was about 127 feet from the impact and consisted of the empennage/tailboom, both engines, avionics boxes, and portions of the cockpit instrument panel. The entire fuselage/cabin and both engines were subjected to a postcrash fire. The cockpit experienced extreme fragmentation. The instrument panel was destroyed, and most instruments were displaced from their panel mounts. Flight controls were fragmented and fire damaged.

The helicopter was not equipped with a flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder nor was it required to be for the accident flight. The NTSB has been issuing recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration to require recorders on helicopters since 1999. Currently, safety recommendations A-13-12 and A-13-13 are the only open recommendations that address recorders in helicopters.

The helicopter operator, Island Express Helicopters, held an FAA Part 135 operating certificate ISHA094F, for on-demand VFR-only operations, since 1998 and conducted offshore oil industry support flights and charter flights. The company’s operations specifications document listed six helicopters including the accident aircraft: 1 SK-76A, 2 SK-76B, 2 AS-350-B2 and 1 AS-350-BA.

The investigative update includes a summary of the ATC and radar data, weather information as well as a summary of video and photos provided by witnesses depicting the weather at the time of the accident.

The information in the update is preliminary and subject to change as the NTSB’s investigation progresses. Analysis of the accident facts, along with conclusions and a determination of probable cause, will come at a later date when the final report on the investigation is completed. As such, no conclusions about how the incident happened should be drawn from the information contained within the investigative update.


The full investigative update is available at https://go.usa.gov/xd84a


Additional information about this investigation is available on the accident webpage: https://go.usa.gov/xd8ah.

To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).