- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The body of the pilot whose helicopter crashed into the Potomac River was pulled from the water yesterday, still strapped into his seat.

Joseph Schaefer, a pilot for 30 years, was the second person confirmed dead in the Monday night crash. The body of paramedic Nicole Kieler was recovered from the wreckage on Tuesday. Flight nurse Jonathan Godfrey was the lone survivor and was expected to recover from broken bones and bruises. He was in fair condition yesterday at Washington Hospital Center.

“The body was found about 40 yards from where the helicopter initially went in the water,” said Maryland State Police Sgt. Rob Moroney. The front half of the helicopter and tail had been sheared off from the midsection.

Emergency workers shifted from a rescue effort to a recovery mission yesterday, bringing in more divers and cadaver dogs after a full-day search Tuesday. The chopper went down near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that carries Interstate 95 between Maryland and Virginia.

Coast Guard officers mapped the river tides to help crews locate the body while the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began inspections of five massive construction cranes that line the Wilson Bridge.

One theory is that the helicopter may have struck one of the cranes, causing the craft to lose altitude and break apart in the water.

“It’s going to be very meticulous,” said NTSB investigator Jeff Guzzetti, adding that the inquiry team will lower each crane to inspect it foot by foot. “We’ll be looking for any telltale signs of a strike, including paint and debris.”

The tallest cranes were being lowered horizontally over the river to give investigators a close look from boats. Evidence that explains the Eurocopter EC-135 crash could be very small, Mr. Guzzetti said.

Taller cranes must be illuminated with warning lights. Mr. Guzzetti said the NTSB is still investigating but thinks the cranes were lit appropriately.

Wreckage from the crash also was being examined at the NTSB Academy in Ashburn, Va., as investigators searched for bird feathers or other clues as to why the chopper fell from the sky. A video from traffic cameras on the bridge that captured the helicopter also was being examined.

Investigators will spend about two weeks examining the wreckage and as much as a year analyzing evidence to provide a final report on the cause of the crash.

It was the second deadly accident in less than a week for LifeNet/Air Methods Corp., which had a crew based in Stafford, Va. The Englewood, Colo.-based company had a chopper go down in Mississippi on Jan. 5, killing the pilot.

The NTSB is investigating 11 medical-flight crashes in the past 12 months.

“One of the jobs of our agency is to take a big-picture look at these accidents,” Mr. Guzzetti said.

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