Backpack may have caused helicopter crash that killed four

ANCHORAGE — A helicopter crash in 2008 that killed four may have been caused by the sole survivor, a teenager not authorized to be aboard the aircraft whose pack accidentally bumped a lever, according to a new report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The Era Helicopters Eurocopter AS350 B2 went down near Sheep Mountain on April 15, 2008, just a minute after taking off, according to the NTSB.

Neither state officials nor Era officials knew the youth, Quinn Ellington, 14 at the time, was aboard as the helicopter transported the state employees, including the teenager's stepfather, to work on a telecommunications site, according to the report prepared by NTSB investigator Larry Lewis.

The report says Ellington was in the front left seat, sitting next to the pilot, and that he had a shoulder pack about a foot across. In an interview with investigators, Ellington said he didn't remember where he put the pack. But crash investigators found it ejected two feet in front of the helicopter, along with a window that broke loose.

The report suggests the youth's pack, left unsecured between the pilot and the teenager, may have pushed the fuel flow control lever into the emergency position. The lever was on the floor of the helicopter, near the youth's feet, the report says.

In an interview Thursday, Lewis said he was able to conclude the lever had been moved in midflight. The purpose of the lever is to give the helicopter a sudden boost in power if it needs a quick lift, but it cannot be sustained unchecked by the pilot without causing the engine's RPMs to rev to dangerous levels, Lewis said.

"If it's inadvertently placed in that position by interference with the fuel controls unbeknownst to the pilot, by the time he is able to identify the cause of the over speed, or the indications that he's getting, it may be too late," Lewis said. "So he's behind the power curve, loses the engine and essentially has no airspeed, no altitude, and just really, really bad terrain underneath."

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