Main Rotor Flew Off Before Fatal Helicopter Crash

Rotor Blades Found 320 Yards From Wreckage

The main rotor came off a medical helicopter before the craft crashed into a southeastern Indiana farm field Sunday, killing three crew members, authorities said Tuesday.

Decatur County Sheriff Daryl Templeton and National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson told The Associated Press that crews found rotor parts hundreds of yards away from the fuselage after the crash Sunday.

"The rotor blades were separated and came to rest about 200 yards away," as did the rotor mast, Knudson said. "We have witness reports reporting the same thing."

Templeton said investigators found the rotor blades 320 yards from the rest of the wreckage.

Witnesses told investigators that the helicopter's nose tipped down before it crashed and exploded at about 1 p.m. Sunday in the field near the town of Burney, about 40 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

"Much of the fuselage was burned pretty considerably," Knudson said.

Roger Warren, Sandra Pearson and Wade Weston

The NTSB is not expected to release the official cause of the crash for at least nine months, Knudson said.

The fuselage was found 1.2 miles from where the helicopter took off from the Burney Volunteer Fire Department, Knudson said.

The helicopter, operated by Missouri-based Air Evac Lifeteam, was not carrying a patient when it crashed. It had been at an event for the fire department and crashed as it was returning to its base in nearby Rushville.

The company said that those killed were pilot Roger Warren, flight nurse Sandra Pearson, and flight paramedic and base manager Wade Weston. The base at Rush Memorial Hospital had been in operation only since February, according to Air Evac.

Warren resided in Otsego, Mich., near Kalamazoo, said Julie Heavrin, a company spokeswoman.

Weston, 38, resided in Cambridge City and was married with two daughters, the Richmond Palladium-Item reported in an obituary Tuesday.

Pearson, a 1988 graduate of Paoli High School, had worked at the Air Evac base in Paoli before transferring to the base in Rushville, The Times-Mail of Bedford reported. She had a 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

Air Evac's four bases in Indiana were not accepting patient missions until crew members, many of whom had flown with those killed, could be assessed. "They will go back into operation when it is determined they are ready," the company said.

Air Evac's other Indiana bases are in Brazil, Evansville and Paoli. The company, which has its headquarters in West Plains, Mo., has 79 bases in 13 states.

The NTSB's Knudson said the agency's investigator was expected to remain at the crash scene through Wednesday. A preliminary report might be released as early as Friday, he said.