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Eyewitnesses: Smoke Came From Duke Life Flight Helicopter Prior To Crash

Duke community members leave messages on a memorial wall in Duke Medicine Pavilion.
Jared Lazarus
Duke University
Duke community members leave messages on a memorial wall in Duke Medicine Pavilion.

A Duke Life Flight helicopter that crashed earlier this month was trailing black smoke before it crashed on a wind turbine farm near Hertford, according to a preliminary report.

Four people died in the crash: pilot Jeff Burke; nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger, and patient Mary Bartlett.

The preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board released today included initial eyewitness accounts:

Several witnesses reported observing smoke trailing behind the helicopter while it was in flight. The smoke was described by some witnesses as "heavy" or "dark", while others reported the color as "black", "dark blue" or "blue." One witness reported that the helicopter was "hovering" and "not travelling forward" while it was a "couple of hundred feet" above the wind turbine farm. Another witness reported hearing a "popping noise," he then observed the helicopter turn left, then right. It then descended quickly and appeared "in control" with the rotors turning before he lost sight of it.

The NTSB report also says it recovered intact audio and video recordings from the crashed helicopter. The Bureau is investigating the exact cause of the crash.

Duke University will hold a memorial service Wednesday afternoon for the four victims.

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