By Elyse Carmosino
The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate
BATON ROUGE, La. — In the moments before last month’s deadly crash, a Baton Rouge police helicopter changed erratically speed, altitude and direction before plummeting into a nearby field, federal investigators said in a report released Wednesday.
The findings confirm a story told by publicly available flight data that suggests something went wrong before the plane crashed, killing both officers on board.
Veteran officers Sgt. David Poirrier and Cpl. Scotty Canezaro died March 26 when the helicopter they were flying in pursuit of a hit-and-run suspect went down near Erwinville in West Baton Parish.
In its preliminary report, the National Transportation Service Board confirmed the pair sent radio and ground units to join the chase and had requested updates on the suspect vehicle’s movement and location before going quiet around the time the chase was called off.
At that point, data show, the helicopter executed a shallow left turn south of Highway 190 before turning left again, after which the aircraft’s rate of turn increased before undergoing a series of turns and altitude changes, the report said.
Despite the fact that BRPD called off the pursuit around 1 p.m. 2:35 a.m. — and the FAA’s report showed the helicopter crashed shortly after — the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office was first alerted to the incident at about 11:00, after the family of one of the pilots requested a search.
According to the NTSB report, the family reported that the officer had not returned home after they noticed his cell phone sending signals from a remote area in West Baton Rouge.
BRPD spokesman Sgt. L’Jean McKneely has said the department is conducting its own investigation into what happened, adding that the agency is working with the Baton Rouge airport and the Federal Aviation Administration to determine “why there was such a time lapse” before BRPD was made aware of the crash. The department said it grounded night flights while it investigated.
After the incident, the FAA initially determined that the helicopter’s tail rotor struck a tree, causing it to crash upside down. But the agency revised its preliminary report days later to say the cause of the crash was unknown.
Available flight data using FlightAware, which charts a plane’s movements every 15 to 20 seconds, shows the helicopter pitched sharply and banked at speed in its final moments.
The NTSB’s report confirms the helicopter’s chaotic ascent using data from a more accurate onboard device called an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B. Every second, ADS-B broadcasts information to ground stations and other aircraft about its aircraft’s GPS location, altitude and ground speed – an aircraft’s speed relative to the Earth’s surface.
Several pilots told The Advocate that it’s impossible to know what went wrong until the federal investigation is complete. But they said the sharp changes in speed and altitude could be the result of a mechanical failure or clouds causing the pilot to become disoriented.
As part of their separate ongoing investigations, the FAA and NTSB will study data from an onboard flight tracker that broadcasts and records information about a plane’s location, altitude and ground speed every second. Investigators will also examine debris that was removed from the scene.
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