The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary findings of an investigation of the Dec. 14 helicopter crash upon the Bonnet Carre Spillway in St. Charles Parish, one that claimed the life of the aircraft’s pilot, Joshua Hawley of Denham Springs.
According to the preliminary report, the Bell 407 helicopter traveling from Gonzales to New Orleans was ultimately surrounded by a very dense fog, leading to a collision with transmission power lines suspended between two tall trusses. The guy wire was estimated to be approximately 130 feet above the bridge.
Location information tracked the helicopter’s path eastbound over I-10 toward New Orleans with a height varying between 75 and 175 feet over ground, according to the report. But less than a mile before the helicopter crashed into the transmission line, the aircraft descended down to 50 feet above ground. Prior to striking the line, it was about 75 feet above ground.
The heavy fog likely obstructed Hawley’s view, the NTSB estimated, rendering him unable to see the transmission lines prior to the collision. The report says several vehicles’ dashboard cameras captured the helicopter’s descent and impact with the bridge. The helicopter was traveling at a speed of approximately 120 miles per hour prior to the crash.
Video showed that the helicopter’s main rotor blades, mast and transmission separated from the fuselage and were later located in Lake Pontchartrain. The main body of the helicopter was engulfed in fire upon impact with the ground.
A post-impact fire consumed most of the fuselage. No video showing the helicopter’s collision with the transmission line has been found.
Following the accident, a United States Coast Guard helicopter was launched to the scene to provide search and rescue support. The Coast Guard pilot reported that the weather was visual flight rules at Louis Armstrong International Airport, but that conditions deteriorated as the pilot moved further west.
Low-level fog allowed the stanchions of the power lines to be barely visible from the east, according to the report. From a top-down view, there was a very dense fog from all areas identified, with a tall column of clouds to the west of the power line intersection where the accident occurred. With Hawley traveling westbound, the fog layer was above the power lines from that vantage point, blocking them from view.
The clouds were able to orbit overhead, allowing for good visibility, at 500 feet over the shoreline, but at landfall to the west, a wall of clouds built to 1,200 feet.
All of the major components of the helicopter were located at the accident site, and the helicopter was sent to a facility for further examination.
Hawley, 43, was the only person onboard the aircraft. There were no casualties on the highway. He was reportedly traveling to pick up three passengers from the New Orleans Lakefront Airport.
The former U.S. Marine leaves behind his wife and their three children, ages 7, 4 and 3.
He was a resident of Denham Springs, but he grew up in Prairieville and graduated from St. Amant High School in 1997. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and spent 13 years as an aircraft mechanic. He also volunteered as a paramedic during his time in service.
A GoFundMe has been set up to raise funds to help Hawley’s family (titled Josh Hawley Memorial Fund).
The NTSB will move on to conduct a more comprehensive investigation that could take up to two years to complete.