Editor’s note: This story was updated June 8, 2010.
Federal investigators scoured the scene Thursday of a fatal helicopter crash in a backyard in Spokane Valley.
Peter N. Hecker, 29, the information technology systems coordinator for the Idaho Department of Lands’ Coeur d’Alene office, was the lone occupant of the helicopter that crashed about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in a residential area east of Felts Field, where the helicopter was based. He died at the scene.
Hecker, a Spokane Valley resident, was training to become a pilot with Inland Helicopters and had achieved a student license, allowing him to fly solo, said Scott Jordan, one of three owners of Inland Helicopters.
“He was a good guy,” Jordan said. “We’re going to miss him tremendously, and we’re going to do everything we can with the FAA to learn what was the cause of the accident.”
Jordan added that Hecker was “an excellent pilot,” who had been in training for “quite a few months.”
Jordan said just before Hecker’s solo flight, he had been in the air with an instructor.
Hecker was hired by the Department of Lands in 2001, said Linda Brammer, the department’s human resources officer.
“He was very much loved. He just touched all of us,” Brammer said. “He was a top-notch employee.”
The helicopter, a Robinson R22, seats up to two people and was built in 2005. Jordan said Inland has five helicopters and leases all of them. Inland suspended flights Thursday in the aftermath of the crash. He said the company currently has about 10 students.
The Federal Aviation Administration lists Richard K. Carter, of Port Orchard, Wash., as the owner of the helicopter. He holds a state business license for Helicopters Northwest. The state also lists a business at his address called Emerald City Aircraft Leasing. Attempts made to reach Carter on Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful. An FAA database shows Carter as the registered owner of more than 30 Robinson helicopters.
Like most helicopters of its age, there was no video or other data recorder onboard, said Howard Plagens, a senior safety investigator based in the Los Angeles office of the National Transportation Safety Board. Plagens flew to Spokane early Thursday to lead the crash investigation.
Plagens said Thursday afternoon that the helicopter will be taken to a secure site and examined for another two or three days, and a final report about the crash will take up to nine months to complete.
“It depends on where the investigation takes us,” Plagens said.
The helicopter crashed in the shared backyard of two rental homes at 3705 and 3707 North Center Road, missing houses, play structures, out buildings – even electrical and phone wires when it fell. Smaller parts of the craft, however, fell in neighboring lots and on nearby roofs.
Nikolay Kravtsov said his wife, Nataliya Kravtsov, was at home across the street when the helicopter fell. She heard a loud noise and felt the house shake before the helicopter hit the ground. A piece of the helicopter, more than a foot long, landed in the driveway. They believe it first hit their roof, he said.
Neighbors say they learn to ignore noise from planes and helicopters from Felts Fields.
Don Rawson, who lives next door to the Kravtsovs, said noises coming from the helicopter sparked his attention.
“As soon as I heard the first boom and then the engine quit, I knew there was something wrong,” Rawson said. He said three pieces of the aircraft landed in his yard.
The FAA investigated four fatal crashes in the United States involving R22s in 2009 and is investigating another fatal R22 crash that occurred earlier this year.