Autopsies: 2 Duke Life Flight crash victims died on impact

Emergency responders on the scene of a helicopter crash Sept. 8, 2017 in Perquimans County, North Carolina. Four people were killed when a Duke Life Flight helicopter crashed. Credit: WRAL

DURHAM, N.C. (WRAL) — At least two of the four people killed in a September crash of a Duke Life Flight medical helicopter died on impact and not from the fire that engulfed the aircraft after the crash, according to autopsy reports obtained by WAVY’s NBC affiliate in Raleigh, WRAL.

The helicopter was flying from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City to Duke University Hospital on Sept. 8 when it went down in a grassy field outside the town of Belvidere, near the Perquimans-Gates county line.

Pilot Jeff Burke, flight nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger, and patient Mary Bartlett were all killed in the crash.

The autopsies of Sollinger and Bartlett showed both women suffered extensive burns, but the cause of death in both cases was listed as blunt force trauma.

“Appears aircraft had a hard landing on crash, with what appears to be aircraft roof collapse, which would have resulted in decedents receiving significant blunt force trauma,” medical examiners wrote in both autopsy reports.

Bartlett’s body couldn’t be removed from the wreckage until the following day because she was underneath the helicopter engine and transmission, her autopsy report states.

WRAL had not yet received the autopsy reports for Burke and Harrison as of this report.

The preliminary findings of the National Transportation Safety Board point to engine problems as the cause of the crash. Investigators noted that components showed overheating and wear and that neither the transmission to the tail rotor shaft nor the No. 2 engine gas generator would move when investigators tried to turn them by hand.

Bartlett’s husband and Harrison’s wife have sued the engine manufacturer and Burke’s estate, alleging negligence in the crash.