Phoenix Attorney Urging Feds Adopt Stricter Regulations On Reporting While Flying




Phoenix Attorney Urging Feds Adopt Stricter Regulations On Reporting While Flying

By Daniel Baxter



July 28, 2009, Phoenix based personal injury attorney Patrick McGroder announced Monday that the families of Channel 3 (KTVK) pilot Scott Bowerbank and cameraman Jim Cox settled for an undisclosed amount with US Helicopters Inc., in addition he is calling for federal authorities to adopt stricter regulations on reporting while flying.  

On July 27, 2007, about 12:46 PM two electronic news gathering helicopters, N613TV and N215TV, collided in midair while maneuvering in Phoenix, Arizona. The Eurocopter AS350B2 helicopters, from local channels 3 and 15, had been covering a police pursuit. N613TV, the channel 3 helicopter, was operated by KTVK-TV, and N215TV, the channel 15 helicopter, was operated by U.S. Helicopters, Inc., under contract to KNXV-TV.  

Each helicopter had a pilot-reporter and a photographer on board. The occupants on board both helicopters were killed, and the helicopters were destroyed by impact forces and postcrash fire.


The helicopters were operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. No flight plans had been filed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. 

National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of this accident was both pilots' failed to see and avoid the other helicopter. Contributing to this failure was the pilots' responsibility to perform reporting and visual tracking duties to support their station's news operation. Contributing to the accident was the lack of formal procedures for Phoenix-area news pilots to follow regarding the conduct of these operations. 

After receiving a report of a police pursuit of a suspect who had reportedly stolen a pickup truck and backed it into a police car after being pulled over, the channel 15 helicopter departed Scottsdale Airport (SDL), Scottsdale, Arizona, about 12:22 PM According to the air traffic control (ATC) transcript, about 12:26, the channel 15 pilot contacted the air traffic control tower (ATCT) at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Arizona; advised that he had automatic terminal information system (ATIS)3 information “Kilo”; and requested to enter the tower’s class B airspace via “Sharp Echo.”4 A controller at the local control north position responded to the channel 15 helicopter pilot, stating “proceed via Sharp Echo as requested, say altitude and destination.”  


The pilot advised that his helicopter was “going to be heading downtown … eighteen hundred feet [mean sea level (msl)5] … to intercept the police chase.” About 1229:03, the channel 15 pilot advised the controller that his helicopter would be climbing to 2,000 feet to get out of the way of the police helicopter following the pursuit, which was operating at 1,900 feet at the time,6 and the controller acknowledged this transmission. 

The channel 3 helicopter departed SDL about 1232 to cover the police pursuit. The ATC transcript indicated that the channel 3 helicopter pilot contacted the ATCT about 1236:41 and informed the controller, about 10 seconds later, “Sharp Echo … going where the other helicopters are over there.” The controller responded, “radar contact, proceed via Sharp Echo as requested.” 

In addition to the channel 3 and 15 helicopters and the police helicopter, three other ENG helicopters were operating in the airspace over the police pursuit. Table 1 presents the time that each of these helicopters made initial contact with the controller and the altitudes at which they were operating. 

According to informal Phoenix-area procedures, the ENG helicopter pilots were expected to use the same air-to-air frequency to report their position and intentions. The channel 3 and 15 helicopters were equipped with an on-board system that recorded audio and video. The audio recordings indicated that, about 1238:02, the channel 15 pilot stated, “okay, twenty two hundred,” and that, about 1 second later, the channel 3 pilot broadcast that he would be operating at 2,000 feet. 

According to the channel 3 and 15 audio recordings, about 1241:02, the channel 15 pilot stated, “I’ll just kinda park it right here.” About 1241:18, the channel 3 pilot broadcast, “OK, I’m gonna move.” Between about 1241:22 and about 1241:26, the channel 15 pilot stated, “where’s three?,” “like how far?,” and “oh jeez.” The channel 15 pilot then transmitted, “three. I’m right over you. Fifteen’s on top of you.” Afterward, the channel 3 pilot questioned which helicopter channel 15 was over, to which the channel 15 pilot responded, “I’m over the top of you.” About 1241:34, the channel 3 pilot indicated that he was operating at 2,000 feet. About 1242:25, the channel 3 pilot stated to the channel 15 pilot, “OK … I got you in sight,” to which the channel 15 pilot responded, about 3 seconds later, “got you as well.” 

Along with their flying duties, the channel 3 and 15 pilots were responsible for reporting information about the event while airborne. (The channel 3 and 15 photographers were responsible for operating a remotely mounted video camera to show the event as it unfolded.) The transmissions over the air-to-air frequency about 1242:25 and 1242:28 were the last times that the channel 3 and 15 pilots coordinated their helicopter’s position or their intentions with each other. 

Both helicopters were Eurocopter AS350B2 models

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