The body of 56-year-old Joseph E. Schaefer III, the pilot of a medical helicopter that went down Monday night in the Potomac River, was found yesterday near the crash site, as federal aviation investigators continued to inspect nearby Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction cranes to see if any of them had been hit by the helicopter.
Schaefer's body, still strapped into the pilot's seat, was discovered just before noon, ending rescue and recovery efforts. The body of flight paramedic Nicole Kielar, 29, of Richmond was found early Tuesday. Flight nurse Jonathan Godfrey, 36, a Chesapeake Beach resident who was pulled from the wreckage shortly after the crash, was in fair condition at Washington Hospital Center.
Rescue workers bring the body of pilot Joseph E. Schaefer III ashore at Oxon Hill after recovering it from the Potomac.
(Prince George's County Fire And Emergency Medical Services Depa)
Rescuers quoted Godfrey as saying that the helicopter crashed after hitting something. National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Lauren Peduzzi said investigators yesterday inspected four of five construction cranes on the Maryland side of the river and found no evidence that any of them had been hit. She said the fifth and tallest crane, which can extend to 270 feet, is to be inspected today.
Peduzzi said investigators had yet to interview Godfrey and another witness, whom she did not identify. The helicopter wreckage has been taken to the NTSB accident investigation laboratory in Ashburn, and the medical examiner in Baltimore will determine the cause of Schaefer's death.
Peduzzi said investigators have to determine how high the cranes were on Monday night, how they were lit, how high the helicopter was flying and how high it was allowed to fly. They also will review training procedures at the company that owned the helicopter, Air Methods Corp. of Denver, which lost a pilot in a crash in Mississippi last week.
John Undeland, a spokesman for the Wilson Bridge construction project near the crash site, said all nine of the cranes being used on the project -- five close to the Maryland side that are the focus of the NTSB investigation and four closer to Virginia -- had lights and flags, even those not high enough to require them.
Undeland said he couldn't confirm the height of each adjustable crane at the time of the crash. Lights are required on cranes that are 200 feet or higher. Of those on the Maryland side, two extend to 180 feet, two to 210 feet and one to 270 feet, he said.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said pilots are responsible for checking whether anything is out of the ordinary in their flight path, such as cranes or closed landing strips. The FAA has a log of such notes, and it contained at least one notice to beware of a temporary crane in the crash area. FAA spokesman William Shumann said it wasn't immediately known if Schaefer had seen the note.
"Those are all parts of the [NTSB] investigation," he said.
Most construction continued on the Wilson Bridge project yesterday, except around the crash site, Undeland said.
Meanwhile, employees of LifeNet, the Air Methods subsidiary whose helicopter crashed, were preparing memorials for Schaefer and Kielar, said Craig Yale, vice president of business for LifeNet.
Schaefer, of Sterling, had been flying for 30 years, including two tours in Vietnam and a stint as a corporate pilot for AT&T. Yale said he joined Air Methods in June.
Air Methods is the largest operator of air ambulances in the country, Yale said, with nearly 200 aircraft making about 100,000 flights a year. He said that before last week's crash in Mississippi, the company had not had a fatality since fall 2002.