The crash occurred this morning at approximately 11:45 a.m. in Perquimans County in eastern North Carolina near the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East complex. The reports that North Carolina Highway Patrol officials have said there are no survivors and that the Federal Aviation Administration has been notified.
In a joint letter to Duke students, faculty and staff, President Vincent Price and A. Eugene Washington, chancellor for health affairs and CEO of the Duke University Health System, wrote that they were "deeply saddened" by the news of the crash.
"The men and women of Duke LifeFlight put themselves at risk every day to save the lives of others, and the colleagues we lost in today’s terrible tragedy embodied Duke’s commitment to service and healing," they wrote. "Our thoughts are with their families, friends and colleagues. There will be opportunities in the coming days to join together in remembering these Duke colleagues and the lifesaving work they were committed to providing."
Annya Soucy, communications advisor at the Sentara Albermarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City, N.C., confirmed that the flight had originated there and was en route to Durham with a patient on board. She said that the hospital had been talking with the patient’s family.
Duke Health identified the flight operators Saturday morning, stating that Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger were nurses on the flight while Jeff Burke was piloting the helicopter.
On Tuesday, Perquimans County Sheriff Shelby White confirmed that the patient aboard was Mary Bartlett, who was seeking Duke care for complications related to surgery.
Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board visited the crash site Saturday, according to The Daily Advance. Representatives from both organizations also met with the manufacturers of the helicopter and its engines as well as the company Air Methods, which was operating the flight.
The NTSB has launched an official investigation into the incident, said spokesman Terry William to The Daily Advance. As part of this process, officials will be checking the helicopter's engines and maintenance records in addition to the records of its pilot.
“I stress they are all standard parts of our investigation,” Williams said.
Duke LifeFlight operates several helicopters to transport patients to Duke medical facilities. According to a report from WTVD, the Perquimans County Sheriff’s office is at the scene of the crash.
A local news service posted a photo of smoke rising from the scene on Twitter.
Officials with Duke Health released this statement:
"With deep sorrow we can confirm that a Duke LifeFlight helicopter crashed early this afternoon near Belvedere, North Carolina. We are in the process of directly confirming information related to this incident and will share more information as it becomes available."
According to its website, Duke LifeFlight flies more than 800 missions each year, and each aircraft is staffed with a pilot and two health care providers. Its fleet of helicopters operates from a base at the Duke University Medical Center and from a base in Johnston County. Life Flight pilots all have military experience and an average of more than 6,000 flight hours each. LifeFlight has ceased operations until further notice, WTVD reports.
Check back for updates to this developing story. Adam Beyer contributed reporting.