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Bad weather, safety agency blamed for fatal Alaska crash

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[November 06, 2014]  (Reuters) - Federal investigators said on Wednesday pilot error and a lack of safety measures at Alaska's public safety agency were to blame for the crash of a rescue helicopter that killed all three people on board last year.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that veteran rescue pilot, Mel Nading, 55, caused the March 2013 crash by continuing to fly after picking up a stranded snowmobiler near Talkeetna, Alaska, despite worsening weather.

The board added that a "punitive culture and inadequate safety management," at the state's public safety department contributed to the crash by failing to recognize and address underlying safety risks.

"These brave few take great risks to save those in harm's way," NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher Hart said in a statement. "There needs to be a safety net for them as well."


The crash occurred when Nading piloted the Alaska State Troopers helicopter to rescue 56-year-old Carl Ober, who had wrecked his snowmobile and called for help.

Nading, Ober and 40-year-old Trooper Tage Toll were all killed in the crash. The aircraft had been used regularly for rescues in the Alaskan wilderness.

The safety department said in a statement the crash was a "monumental loss," and that it has since reviewed its practices to ensure similar incidents do not occur again.

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The NTSB said it recommended that Alaska, as well as 44 other states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., create and implement a flight risk evaluation program.

Talkeetna is a small town of about 900 some 115 miles (185 km) from Anchorage and is known as the base for most expeditions on Mount McKinley.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Paul Tait)

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