Feds fault pilot in helicopter crash that killed 3 during 2013 reality TV shoot
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A helicopter pilot working on a reality television show was the likely cause of a crash that killed him and two other people, federal investigators have determined.
The determination was contained in a probable cause report by the National Transportation Safety Board involving the February 2013 crash during filming of a military-themed reality show for Discovery Channel.
The report released Monday determined the pilot should not have continued flying while having difficulty seeing because of a small light being used to illuminate an actor.
"As the pilot, he was responsible for the safe operation of the helicopter and should have initiated the measures necessary to ensure that the helicopter's internal lighting and the lighting on the ground would enable him to conduct the flight in a safe manner," the agency's final report on the crash states.
The report also faulted a Federal Aviation Administration inspector who reviewed plans for the shoot for not recognizing the dangers of the filming given the dark conditions and rugged terrain of the riverbed valley where the crash occurred.
The FAA said it takes the report's findings seriously but had no further comment.
Investigators utilized audio and video recordings of the early morning flight that were recovered from the crash wreckage to make their determinations. The pilot, David Gibbs, complained on an earlier filming flight that night that the light being used to illuminate an actor in the cockpit was making it difficult for him to see.
Michael Donatelli, a former Special Forces Ranger who was in the front seat of the helicopter, and cameraman Darren Rydstrom were also killed in the crash.
Moments before the crash, Rydstrom instructed Donatelli to turn off the light illuminating his face so that Gibbs could see better, according to the NTSB report.
Audio recorded moments before the crash showed confusion in the cockpit of the Bell 206B helicopter.
"Where did, uh, we're going down low," the cameraman said moments before the crash, according to the NTSB report.
"OK, OK, I can't," Gibbs was heard saying before Rydstrom told him, "Pull up, pull up."
During the previous flight. Gibbs reported trouble seeing and thanked production workers for allowing him to do multiple passes and not pressuring him, the report states.
The investigator noted that Gibbs' comments indicated he was amenable to requests for certain shots despite his difficulty seeing the terrain.
The filming occurred on a film ranch in the Acton area in northeast Los Angeles County, on a moonless night with little ground illumination.
A phone message left for the Discovery Channel was not immediately returned Friday.
The filming was organized by the production company EyeWorks USA, which has since rebranded itself as 3 Ball Entertainment. The company declined comment on the report.
Lawsuits against the production companies by relatives of Rydstrom and Donatelli are pending.
Gibbs had two prior accidents while working on a film or television production, the NTSB said. His license was temporarily suspended in 2003 after the FAA determined he flew in a "careless and reckless manner" during a television shoot.
Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP