Investigators asked the NMSP chief if there were mechanisms in place to prevent the chief pilot's PIO assignment from interfering with his ability to get adequate rest. The chief said, “It's up to [the chief pilot] to say, 'Hey, I didn't get enough rest last night.'” He added that flying missions would take priority over PIO missions on weekends when the pilot was standing by for both.
Asked how the chief pilot was supposed to balance the two on-call assignments and get enough rest when the aircraft missions and the PIO calls were unpredictable, the chief said, “He's the chief pilot. That's his responsibility . . . if he feels like he's not rested as the chief pilot or as a pilot, for that matter, if you're not rested, why are you flying? And, again, we're not going to know if he's rested if he's not reporting it, because we're not sitting there with a monitor in his home looking at him.”
Asked whether he had any concerns about the chief pilot's dual roles being too burdensome, the chief said, “No. Look at the number of hours they fly and divide that by the number of pilots. . . he's flying a couple hundred hours a year out of 2,080. He didn't have too many responsibilities for the number of missions that our department flies.”
The public safety secretary, who was the police chief's supervisor, had been chief pilot of the aviation section at one time. When asked whether he had had any concerns about the chief pilot working as both chief pilot and PIO, he said no, “[the chief pilot] seemed to relish it . . . and anytime I flew with him, it never showed that this was having any detrimental effect on his flying performance.” Asked whether he was aware that the chief pilot had complained to top managers and asked for relief, he said, “No, I don't recall that anybody brought that to my attention.”
Asked whether the department had any mechanisms in place to ensure that the PIO role did not interfere with the chief pilot's ability to get adequate rest, he answered, “Oh, yeah . . . He still had to have his crew rest. He still couldn't fly more than he was required to fly.” The secretary added that he himself had performed numerous extra duties when he served as chief pilot, including PIO work and special investigations. He stated, “I only did these things when pilot duties didn't require me to [fly missions], and if I had been up doing these other things for a long period of time, and a flying mission came up, if I couldn't do it, I didn't do it . . . another pilot would have to do it or the mission wouldn't be flown.”
The chief pilot's colleagues described him as a motivated, hard-working, disciplined officer who was outgoing and personable. They said he had turned down past missions, either because of poor weather or because he was fatigued from performing other work-related duties, but they held varying opinions about his assertiveness when it came to safety. The full-time helicopter pilot, who flew frequently with the chief pilot and considered him a “very good friend,” said that the chief pilot was capable of being assertive and that the chief pilot had told the other pilots that if they felt something was unsafe they should tell him and he would take care of it.
Colleagues offered varying assessments of the chief pilot's mission-related decision-making style.
The full-time helicopter pilot said that the chief pilot had a “problem-solving mentality,” and made conscientious decisions. He said the chief pilot tended to examine all aspects of a mission and select an intelligent strategy. He did not think the chief pilot was the kind of person who would act impulsively or knowingly exceed his own limitations. He said that, because of this, he found some aspects of the chief pilot's decision making during the accident mission puzzling and out of character. He wondered what the chief pilot knew and did not know — when the weather deteriorated in the search area, why the chief pilot did not bring night-vision goggles, and why he did not stay on the mountain overnight. He wondered why he took off in possible icing conditions when he knew that the helicopter had no systems to defend against icing.
The full-time helicopter pilot said that he would have been concerned about landing on the mountain if he were flying the accident mission. He would have preferred to mark the hiker's location and seek other means for rescuing her, such as requesting helicopter support from the National Guard. He also said that he would not have tried to take off from the remote landing site at night and in poor weather conditions, and that he thought it was “insane” for the chief pilot to do so without night-vision goggles. He said he would have spent the night on the mountain rather than take off in those conditions, and he would not have expected anyone to reprimand him for doing so. He was surprised by the chief pilot's decision to take off.
Asked what would have concerned him most about the accident mission, based on the weather forecast information and his knowledge of the search area, he said: weather, mountain operations and flying single pilot. He said he “might have recommended that we re-evaluate it in the morning since we had already flown all day.” He added, “It wasn't going to be quick. It was a search.” He said if the chief pilot had asked his opinion, he would have recommended that he wait until morning or try to mitigate the risks by bringing a second pilot and a set of night-vision goggles.