Report sheds light on deadly Duke Life Flight helicopter crash

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Witnesses saw smoke before the crash happened.

Duke Hospital's Life Flight program will stay grounded for now, officials said after an initial review of a report by the National Transportation Safety Board. The preliminary, three-page report offers some details of the medical helicopter crash that killed all four people on board but doesn't attribute a cause to the accident.

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The report sites witnesses who saw dark smoke before the crash. One witness said the Life Flight helicopter was "hovering" and "not traveling forward" before it crashed on September 8. It went down in a wind turbine field just east of Elizabeth City. Another witness reported hearing a popping noise before the helicopter turned left, then right and descended with the rotors turning.

Cause is not attributed in the report, but it says one of the helicopter's two engines showed signs of "overheating and lack of lubrication" and a bearing in the engine was "worn down to the surface of the bearing race."

The report says the on-board audio and video unit suffered heat damage but the memory device remained intact. It's being sent to an NTSB laboratory for examination.

Killed in the crash were nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger, pilot Jeff Burke, and 70-year-old patient Mary Bartlett. Bartlett's family said she needed treatment for complications from pancreatic cancer. Her husband, Lennard Bartlett Sr., told WAVY-TV a few days after the crash that he had wanted to fly with his wife.

"I just said, 'I'll be there soon.' I said, 'I'm going to try to go with you if they'll let me, but I'll be there soon and I love you,' and then I kissed her and she said, 'I love you too.'"

A memorial service for the four will be held Wednesday in Duke Chapel, followed by a tribute in the quad in front of the chapel.

Hospital President Kevin Sowers said in statement that he has no other details beyond what's in the NTSB report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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