Pilot error was probably the cause of a fatal ambulance helicopter crash off Bainbridge Island in 1995, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
“The pilot failed to maintain sufficient altitude/clearance above the surface of the water while flying over calm water conditions at night,” the NTSB report said.
The pilot, Lee Bothwell, 42, of Puyallup, and nurses Marna Fleetwood, 40, of Brier and Amy Riebe, 41, of Seattle died in the Sept. 11, 1995, crash en route from Seattle to pick up a patient on Bainbridge Island.
There was no evidence of mechanical failure or malfunction, although witnesses reported hearing popping or labored sounds coming from the helicopter, the NTSB report said.
Conditions that may have contributed to the crash were the darkness, fog, calm water on Puget Sound and a lack of visual clues to help the pilot correctly gauge the helicopter’s altitude.