Investigators say a medical helicopter that crashed in coastal South Carolina had run into poor weather and was trying to land.
The crash Friday night killed all three crew members on board. The helicopter has just dropped off a patient at a Charleston hospital and no patients were on board.
National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt says there was "convective" weather, including rain, in the Georgetown area about 60 miles northeast of Charleston.
Sumwalt says the cause of the crash is still being determined, but it appears there was no fire or structural failure on the aircraft while it was in flight. The helicopter was almost completely consumed by fire after the accident.
The helicopter belonged to OmniFlight, a Texas-based company that operates 100 aircraft in 18 states.
Late Friday, Omniflight released the names of the crew members killed.
Patrick Walters, 45, of Murrells Inlet was the pilot; Diana Conner, 42, of Florence/Kingstree was the nurse aboard; and Randolph Claxton Dove, 39, of Bladenboro, NC, was the in-flight paradmedic. All three were deceased by the time emergency crews discovered the wreckage around 2:00 a.m. Saturday, said Georgetown County Coroner Kenny Johnson.
Ominflight representatives said the American Eurocopter had dropped off a patient at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and then departed for Conway Friday night. The last time the crew made voice communication with Omniflight's communication center in Charleston was sometime around 11:10 p.m., said Ominflight Vice President Joel Lochhalter.
When the crew didn't check back in, and when the helicopter fell off the radar at 11:38 p.m., the communication center made contact with Charleston County authorities who didn't find anything. Central dispatch in Georgetown County was contacted around 1:22 a.m., said Coroner Johnson, and the fiery wreckage was found around 2:00 a.m.
The helicopter went down about one mile south of the Georgetown County Airport in some woods off White Hall Avenue near Belle Isle.
NewsChannel 15 First Alert Meteorologist Ed Piotrowski said moderate showers and storms covered much of Georgetown County between 11:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m., though Omniflight personnel said it's too early to speculate on causes.
However, late Saturday evening, the National Transportation Safety Board said the helicopter was trying to divert to the Georgetown County Airport because of bad weather.
Lochhalter said Omniflight has specific "weather minimums" in which helicopters are denied flight if visibility is not at least 5,000 ft. with a cloud ceiling no lower than 1,000 ft.
Lochhalter said the pilot, Walters, would have completed pre-flight assessments, and that the pilot and company felt comfortable with Friday night's flight.
Investigators with the NTSB and FAA arrived on-scene Saturday morning and were still combing through the wreckage early Saturday evening.
According to Omniflight, the helicopter was an American Eurocopter AS350B2 built in 2000. It's registration number was N417AE with serial number 9032.
Lochhalter said the helicopter was in its third year with Omniflight and that it had logged 2,975 hours of airtime, though an engine newer than the plane had logged only 1,350 hours.
For much of the day Saturday, Omniflight employees and other emergency personnel from around Georgetown, Charleston and Horry Counties filled the second floor of the airport.
Visibly upset men and women came in and out through the morning and afternoon until the parking lot was full.
"These are the nurses, paramedics, and pilots that we see on a day to day basis so it's kind of hitting home with some of the emergency responders in the county," said Sam Hodge who is the county's emergency management director.