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NTSB releases final report about helicopter crash near Ashland

Difficult weather caused pilot to become disoriented, resulting in fatal January 2019 crash

A fatal helicopter crash in January 2019 likely was caused by foul weather that disoriented the pilot, according to a May report.

The probable cause in the death of pilot Timothy Bruce Lyons, 69, of Bolivar, Texas, has been determined by the National Transportation Safety Board, which stated he became disoriented in difficult weather conditions and lost control of the aircraft.

The helicopter left Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport at about 9:20 a.m. Jan. 23, 2019. Flying for Erickson Helicopters Inc., Lyons had completed a risk assessment form before going up in the helicopter that morning and had “determined it to be low risk,” according to the report.

Low-risk conditions included having visibility of at least one mile and the ceiling being higher than 500 feet, based on a Medford Meteorological Terminal Air Report issued just before 9 a.m. that day.

However, “there was no record the pilot obtained a preflight weather briefing on the day of the accident,” the report pointed out. “Had he obtained such a briefing, he likely would have been aware of the possibility of encountering below minimum weather conditions for helicopter operations.”

Lyons was alone in the helicopter when the 1989 Bell 206 L3 crashed. He was in the air that morning to fulfill flight-time insurance requirements. He was a highly experienced pilot with more than 18,000 hours of flight time.

He had completed nearly 40 flights totaling 84 hours of flight time in that same type of aircraft, including 20 flights, totaling 55.6 hours in the aircraft that went down. He was based at the Medford airport.

Weather forecasts and images of the location where Lyons had been flying at the time of the crash were used as part of the investigation. Meteorological conditions at the time included fog, low ceilings — the height of clouds from the ground — and clouds at least partially covering the mountains.

“The pilot’s decision to continue visual flight into deteriorating weather, which resulted in an encounter with instrument meteorological conditions and spatial disorientation, (led) to loss of control,” the NTSB report noted.

Lyons’ flight path that morning was generally to the south of the airport before making low-level maneuvers, then to the north along Interstate 5.

“The helicopter made several turns during the final two minutes of recorded radar data before the last recorded data point, which was near to the accident site,” the NTSB report said.

Wreckage of the helicopter was found 9 miles southeast of Ashland among tall trees.

For details, see https://data.ntsb.gov/Docket?ProjectID=98851

Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber@rosebudmedia.com or call 541-776-4468.