GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. -- The National Transportation Safety Board released its factual report into the crash that killed three people in 2011.
The helicopter, owned by SK Jets, was headed from the Mayo Clinc to UF & Shands Hospital in Gainesville when it slammed into the ground about 12 miles from the Palatka Airport. The pilot, Hoke Smith, medical technician David Hines, and Mayo Clinic doctor Luis Bonilla were all killed in the crash, which happened the day after Christmas.
Smith was flying using weather guidance instruments but his helicopter was not certified for that type of flight. A fog and mist warning was in effect for the area. The aircraft was not equipped with a radar altimeter and its GPS did not have an obstacle warning device.
Radio communication stopped about five minutes before the chopper lost speed and crashed into the ground. The last transmission the pilot made was to get clearance to enter restricted airspace. Shortly after that was granted, the helicopter turned right and its speed dropped from between 100-110 knots to 81.
SK Jets had three prior incidents in the 10 years before this crash. In 2002, one fleet helicopters crashed into Atlantic Ocean during a night flight. The pilot was killed. That investigation revealed the chopper was not certified to fly under those conditions. A Learjet made a hard landing at St. Augustine Airport in July of 2007. In December of that same year, Smith was involved in an incident while refueling. He hit a tree while landing in St. Augustine.