Tests are expected to begin today on the C20 turbine engine from the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter that crashed into the Washington Channel Friday, killing three passengers and seriously injuring the pilot, the National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday.

The engine, packed for shipping Saturday, was expected to reach the manufacturer, Allison Gas Turbine in Indianapolis, yesterday.

"If it starts, they will see how well it is running or what is different about it," said safety board spokesman Mike Benson. "If it can't be started, then they will do a teardown."

Witnesses to the accident said there probably was an engine problem. Many said they heard the engine stop moments before the helicopter hit the water.

The crash caused little damage to the helicopter's main and tail rotors, mast, transmission or engine. But the passenger compartment was crumpled and twisted when it was retrieved from the 20-foot-deep channel near Hains Point.

Benson said the rest of the helicopter body would be released to the owner, Advest Credit Corp., "when we finish looking at the systems."

Benson cautioned that it may be several months before investigators finish their work and determine the cause of the accident.

Pilot Jack Turley, the only survivor of the crash, was still in intensive care at the George Washington University Medical Center yesterday, where his condition was listed as serious but stable. He injured his vertebrae in the crash.

Rus LeBlanc, a California yachtsman who is credited with saving Turley's life by pulling the injured man into his rubber dinghy, paid a short visit to the 37-year-old pilot Saturday.

LeBlanc told waiting reporters that Turley "looked good" and thanked him for coming to his aid.

"He said he wished he could have met me under better circumstances," LeBlanc said.