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The Houston Police Department MD 369E that crashed May 2 began to spin before crashing into an unoccupied building and terrain, killing one crew and seriously injuring the pilot, according to a preliminary report from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
On the moonless morning just before 2 a.m., the helicopter was flying in visual conditions with 10-mile visibility near the IAH airport in Texas. Using flight following, it was conducting an aerial search for a person “near a bayou,” according to the report released by the NTSB on May 7.
At some point during the mission, the helicopter rotated while in the air before crashing to the ground near George Bush Intercontinental Airport, according to a video taken by a witness that was reviewed and confirmed by the NTSB. The aircraft was destroyed on impact. Tactical flight officer Jason Knox was killed in the crash. Pilot and senior police officer Chase Cormier was seriously injured.
The Houston police helicopter pilot made contact with air traffic control at the Houston Airport before it disappeared from radar, according to the report. The pilot held an FAA commercial pilot certificate and a second-class medical certificate.
Another helicopter operated by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) then contacted air traffic control at IAH airport requesting clearance to enter its airspace, according to the report.
Clearance was granted and a DPS helicopter crewmember asked if the controller was still in contact with the police helicopter. The controller advised that radar contact was lost with the police helicopter. The DPS helicopter crewmember advised ATC that there was an indication that the helicopter had impacted terrain, according to the NTSB report.
NTSB investigators did not visit the crash scene, but an FAA inspector examined the wreckage site and documented it. The helicopter hit an unoccupied building and terrain. The wreckage was recovered and retained for further detailed examination.
Investigators could be aided by an augmented reality mapping system installed on the MD 369. The data recording device from that system was collected to see if it contains information pertinent to the accident flight.
The May 2 crash was the second recent accident for HPD’s Air and Marine Division. Another MD 369 in the fleet made a hard landing July 4, 2019, near the department’s hangar at William Hobby Airport in Houston. The helicopter’s rotors impacted the ground and the aircraft came to rest on its right side, according to photos the police department posted to Twitter. Both the pilot and flight training officer on board walked away without serious injury.