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Maintenance questions resurface after helicopter crash

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Local,Kathleen Miller
Four people are dead and Maryland's state police aviation command has grounded all aircraft after a state police helicopter crashed during a medical transport trip early Sunday morning in Prince George's County. The incident comes weeks after the release of a troubling audit that found management and maintenance problems in the state aviation program.

State police pilot Stephen J. Bunker, 59, of Waldorf, Md., trooper first class Mickey C. Lippy, 34, of Westminster, Md., Waldorf Rescue Squad worker Tanya Mallard, 39, of Waldorf and patient Ashley J. Younger, 17, also of Waldorf all died when the medevac helicopter crashed between 12 and 12:30 a.m. Sunday in Walker Mill Regional Park.

One passenger, patient Jordan A. Wells, 18, also of Waldorf, Md., survived and is being treated at Prince George's Hospital Center.
Crewmembers had picked up Younger and Wells after a traffic accident in Waldorf to transport them to the Prince George's Hospital Center.


National Transportation Safety Board officials said the pilot had contacted air traffic controllers saying he was trying to use glideslope technology to help him land the helicopter at Andrews Air Force Base. NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the controller reported the system was operating, but the pilot was also seeking step-by-step instructions to land.

Several sources said the same helicopter had experienced maintenance problems earlier in the summer with its glideslope system, but Holloway could not confirm that report. State police officials said the helicopter had completed a 100-hour inspection last Wednesday.

In August, legislative auditors gave the 12-helicopter unit responsible for medical transport high marks for safety, but found poor maintenance records and supervision kept a third of the choppers out of service.

An internal police memo also said the state police failed to buy a $70,000 maintenance tracking system they were advised to purchase nine years ago.

State Sen. John Astle, a former helicopter pilot himself, said after a legislative hearing weeks ago that state police officials hadn't “really answered the questions.”

Astle and Sen. E.J. Pipkin sent a letter to Federal Aviation Administration officials last week asking them to investigate the program.

“This is a real tragedy,” Astle said. “Until the NTSB has done their investigation, it is hard to say what happened.”
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