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Fatal helicopter crash still under investigation

Fatal helicopter crash still under investigation

December 5th, 2018 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

A Callaway County Sheriff's Office deputy gazes into the Potawatami Campground, an area east of Fulton where a helicopter crash Oct. 17, 2018, left one person dead.

Photo by Helen Wilbers/File Photo

The National Transportation Safety Board has yet to release a final report on the Oct. 17 fatal helicopter crash near Fulton.

This means pilot Charles Prather's family is still waiting to hear what caused the accident — information that will only be included in that final report.

This lengthy investigation time frame isn't unusual, according to a media spokesperson for the NTSB.

"It takes about 12 to 18 months for an accident's cause to be determined," the spokesperson said Tuesday.

The crash investigation is ongoing.

"We're not hearing anything," Charles' mother Joan Prather told the Fulton Sun on Oct. 23.

On Oct. 25, the NTSB, a federal agency that investigates aviation accidents, released a preliminary document giving previously unreported detail about the circumstances around the crash.

Charles Prather was on a solo instructional flight between Helisat in Moscow Mills and Columbia, the report states. Already a commercial-rated airplane pilot, Prather was to perform "touch and go" landings in Columbia as part of earning his rotorcraft rating.

Prather set out at 1:45 p.m., with sunny skies and a 16 mph breeze. At 2:21 p.m., his Robinson R22B helicopter headed for the ground.

Local witnesses reported seeing the helicopter flying low and turning, according to the NTSB report. One even claimed to have seen smoke rising from the helicopter. However, Prather made no distress calls.

The helicopter went down east of Fulton in a remote area north of Bartley Lane, near the Potawatomi Campground. Local first responders initially struggled to locate the craft due to the terrain.

Ultimately, the helicopter's debris was found in a 6-foot-wide, 2-foot-deep crater. Evidence indicates the craft hit the ground with its nose down, tilted left, the NTSB states. Prather was deceased by the time responders arrived on the scene, though the report does not state whether or not he was killed upon impact.

The aircraft was destroyed in the accident, though investigators located all its components at the crash site. Wreckage was transported to a "secure facility" in Fulton for detailed examination.

Prather's mother described him as a "safety-conscious pilot." He picked up the hobby after a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy. He later joined the U.S. Air Force. Every spare dollar from his phlebotomy job went into his flying lessons. Before long, he was landing on glaciers. Joan Prather said he was considering opening a flying-related business with a friend.