Bill Hibbler watched a UH-1 helicopter crash at Cheyenne Regional Airport on Wednesday and believes mechanical failure may have caused it. All he knows for sure is the helicopter was not operating as it should have and the crash, which ended with the helicopter upside down and its three crew members not seriously hurt, was “bizarre.”
“Whether mechanical or pilot contribution, the craft was not exhibiting a normal flying or landing pattern before bounced while both descending fast and still moving forward fast,” he said.
Something’s Not Right
As he drove in his car, Hibbler told Cowboy State Daily that he first noticed the helicopter flying at an unusually high altitude off the ground. With his windows rolled down, Hibbler kept his eyes and ears on the aircraft and noticed it also was making a peculiar sound.
Suddenly, the helicopter started plummeting toward the ground at a very steep angle, he said.
When asked about the potential for mechanical failure contributing to the crash, Glenn Robertson, a civilian spokesperson for F.E. Warren Air Force Base, said the crash is under investigation and that’s part of what the investigation will determine.
Hibbler said the helicopter lost significant altitude while making its descent over a golf course near the airport.
At around a few hundred feet off the ground, he said the chopper made a very steep turn over a busy street and started flying almost completely on its side.
“I was thinking, ‘I did not know helicopters could make such a maneuver,’” Hibbler said.
Once directly over a runway at the airport, the helicopter appeared to regain some control and returned to a proper level for its final descent, at what Hibbler described as “a very fast speed.”
Hibbler said he expected the helicopter to gain altitude again. Instead, it simply moved a few yards to the north before slamming into the ground while descending rapidly.
Hibbler said the helicopter bounced off the ground after the initial impact, throwing dirt into the air.
Once the chopper reached its apex off the bounce, Hibbler said it then turned upside down and changed direction, landing directly on its top “with the rotors and all sorts of dirt and metal flying everywhere.”
Waiting with nervous anticipation, Hibbler said he was certain the helicopter would explode or burst into flames at any moment.
But there was no Hollywood moment, and he observed someone running from the aircraft before stopping to bend over about 30 yards away.
“Because of the enormity of the impact, I was convinced that serious injury or worse had occurred,” Hibbler said.
A video of the crash shows the three crew members emerging from the helicopter and tossing their helmets off their heads in a rather dejected manner.
Emergency responders quickly arrived at the scene.
What We Do Know
In a Wednesday evening press release, Col. Johnny Galbert, 90th Missile Wing commander, expressed gratitude to the emergency responders and that no one was hurt or killed in the crash.
“I would like to personally thank the first responders from the Wyoming Air National Guard and American Medical Response who arrived on scene and ensured everyone remained safe,” Galbert said. “We are thankful there were no major injuries.”
According to F.E. Warren, the three men inside the helicopter were treated and released from Cheyenne Regional Medical Center on Wednesday.
F.E. Warren reported that the crash is under investigation by an Interim Safety Board.A Safety Investigation Board will also be convened to determine the cause of the crash and recommend measures necessary to prevent future mishaps.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.