Often we all get too focused on the goal without taking time to assess the hazards.
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.
The fixed-wing pilot said that the chief pilot tended to “act right away before thinking things out.”
A retired NMSP chief pilot said he believed the chief pilot did not understand the limitations associated with his inexperience, and that he would only have been able to understand his limitations after flying several thousand more hours. He said he would never fly the helicopter at night without night-vision goggles and it made him “very upset” that the chief pilot did not bring goggles on the accident mission.
The part-time helicopter pilot said he thought the chief pilot lacked “temperance” due to his youth and inexperience. The Major in charge of the special operations said the chief pilot was a “very aggressive, high-speed type of individual” that he had to “double check,” because he was “high-spirited” and “enthusiastic.” He said that the chief pilot would “go 100 mi. an hour all the time” if he were allowed.
The public safety secretary said he believed that the chief pilot, “wanted to get [the hiker] out, he thought he could do it safely and that's just not the way it happened.” He said that if the chief pilot had known he was going to enter IMC, he would have “bundled up the best [he] could for the night.”
The dispatcher was asked if she suspected the chief pilot had initially turned down the mission for a reason other than high winds — fatigue, for example. She said no; he would have told her if he was too tired to fly the mission. Why did he accept the mission? Probably because he was concerned about the hiker's safety and because a police supervisor had asked him to fly the mission, she said, adding that she did not know whether the chief pilot realized the weather was going to deteriorate, nor did she know if he felt pressured to accept the mission.
The chief pilot's colleagues said he was the kind of person who was willing to put himself at risk to save others.