The NTSB’s preliminary report on the crash contains little more than what was in the news accounts. The report does, however, offer one bit of new information. The helicopter impacted on a magnetic heading of 230 degrees. That heading is not in line with the route from Reno to Susanville. While that might ultimately prove to be important, little can be made of that information without a careful examination of the layout of the terrain near the accident site and the roadway that the pilot might have been using to aid in his navigation.
Though the information in the NTSB’s official report is sparse, an NTSB spokesman did offer his expanded comments to Mary Pat Flaherty, a reporter for the Washington Post who has been following the poor EMS safety record during the past months. The NTSB’s Ted Lopatkiewicz told Flaherty that the Mountain Lifeflight helicopter didn’t have certain important safety equipment. Lopatkiewicz was referring to the helicopter’s lack of an autopilot, a ground proximity warning system, night vision goggles (discussed in this post), and other equipment necessary to navigate in poor weather.
But in this case the pilot was flying in good weather. He did not collide with the ground because he could not see it. Rather, as discussed here, it appears that the pilot crashed because of some type of mechanical problem with the helicopter. It’s unlikely the helicopter’s lack of advanced equipment played any role in the accident at all.