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Report: Pilot Did Not Respond To Crew Members Before Fatal 2018 Crash

No Mechanical Failure Found In Deadly Crash Of Medical Helicopter In Northern Wisconsin

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Funeral service for the Spirit 2 crew members killed in an April crash
Six medical helicopters fly in formation following the memorial service for the Spirit 2 crew members who lost their lives in the April 26, 2018 crash in Hazelhurst, Wisconsin. Peter Vance/Ascension Wisconsin

The pilot in a 2018 medical helicopter crash that killed three people in northern Wisconsin made no response when a crewmember shouted at him as the helicopter spun out of control, a new federal report has found.

The factual report of the National Transportation Safety Board, released Monday, found no mechanical failures in the helicopter, which crashed at around 11 p.m. April 26, 2018, in Hazelhurst. The Ascension Wisconsin Spirit 2 helicopter was piloted by Rico Caruso of Hazelhurst. Caruso had logged more than 3,200 flight hours. Flight paramedic Gregory Rosenthal of Mosinee and flight nurse Klint Mitchell of Watersmeet, Michigan also died in the crash.

All of them left behind partners and children. Mitchell’s fiancée was pregnant at the time of the crash, and his daughter was born just a week later.

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The men were on their way home to the helicopter’s base in Woodruff after flying a patient to a Madison hospital. According to the report, the helicopter sheared branches from a 70-foot-tall tree and left a “ground impression” that was 11 feet long, 9 feet wide and 2 feet deep.

The report does not issue a judgment about whether or not Caruso fell asleep, but includes suggestive evidence. At about 10 p.m., one of the crew members said, “I could go to sleep,” according to the report. Caruso responded, “Yeah, that’d be nice, huh?” In response to a crew member’s yawn, Caruso asked if the member was “all right back there.” The crew member responded, “The question is, are you all right up there?”

“Uh, think so,” Caruso said, according to the report. “Good enough to get us home, at least.”

When the helicopter began to roll out of control, Caruso’s head “moved to the right and could no longer be seen in the (video) image,” the report states. When crew members shouted at him, the pilot’s head returned to the image. It was too late to avert the crash.

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The flight was Caruso’s first after a week-long family vacation in Florida, according to the report. His wife told investigators he had not had trouble sleeping and the interview and his cellphone records indicated he had slept a full night, roughly from 9:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m., the night before the flight.

The helicopter’s safety tracking device was recovered in the wreckage. It showed “no light or audio warnings that would indicate a mechanical malfunction,” the report stated, and the investigation did not find other evidence of mechanical failures. An autopsy did not find drugs or alcohol in Caruso’s system.

The memorial for the three men was held May 4, 2018, and brought out more than 1,200 people, many of them paramedics, to Holy Family Catholic Church in Woodruff. Six helicopters flew in formation over the church that day.

According to a coworker of Mitchell’s, the crew member’s last words to him were, “I love my job.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the nature of the report. It is the factual report. A final report will be issued by the National Transportation Safety Board at a later date.