NTSB Blames Helicopter Pilot For Crash That Killed Darien Man

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The pilot was to blame for the helicopter crash that killed Tighe Sullivan of Darien on Oct. 9, 2012, in Pennsylvania, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report.
The pilot was to blame for the helicopter crash that killed Tighe Sullivan of Darien on Oct. 9, 2012, in Pennsylvania, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report. Photo Credit: File

DARIEN, Conn. -- The pilot was to blame for a helicopter crash in the Poconos in October 2012 that killed a Darien business executive, according to a recent report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Darien resident Tighe Sullivan, 51, was killed along with the pilot, William Ellsworth, 52, of Califon, N.J., in the crash on the stormy night. One passenger, Stephen Barral of Bernardsville, N.J., was critically injured by survived.

They were returning to the metro New York area from a golf outing in Elmira, N.Y., when helicopter crashed near I-380 in Coolbaugh Township, Pa., near Mount Pocono. 

Sullivan, a Darien resident for 17 years, was a founder, partner and chief operating officer of Fraser Sullivan Investment Management in New York City. His wife is former Darien Selectman Callie Sullivan.

The probable cause of the crash was "the pilot’s decision to continue visual flight rules flight into instrument meteorological conditions due to self-imposed pressure to complete the trip, which resulted in impact with trees and terrain," the NTSB said. 

Barral, the surviving passenger, reported that, after taking off, the weather “began to get worse,” and the pilot said they would not be able to make it to their destination airport. The weather worsened, and the pilot decided to divert. 

When Barral looked out of the window, it was “misty and dusky,” according to the NTSB. Shortly after, the helicopter struck trees and terrain, the report said.

A witness reported observing the helicopter flying “very low” along the southbound lane of I-380 with all of its lights on just before the accident. The visibility was low, that the helicopter was under “low fog,” and that it was like “pea soup” around the area, he said. 

The sun had set, a light rain was falling and visibility was about a half-mile, the NTSB said. Before the accident, the helicopter was flying at a low altitude with an airspeed of about 30 knots. 

"The pilot could have returned to the departure airport or landed in a suitable area along his route of flight," the NTSB said. But he chose to fly in the "dark night instrument meteorological conditions (IMC)," the NTSB said, "despite the availability of safer options and was then forced to divert as the weather worsened."

No sign of a malfunction or engine problem was found, the NTSB said. 

Although Ellsworth, the pilot, held an airline transport pilot certificate that allowed him to fly under IMC in airplanes, he did not possess an instrument helicopter rating, the NTSB said. 

Also, Ellsworth was scheduled to fly a round trip for the airline he worked for the day after the accident occurred, the NTSB said. That "likely resulted in self-imposed pressure to complete the trip he was flying on the day of the accident so that he could return home and make his report time for his assigned trip on the following day," the NTSB said.

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