Sullivan family not surprised by NTSB findings
Updated 11:14 am, Friday, August 1, 2014
The helicopter pilot in the October 2012 crash that killed Darien resident Tighe Sullivan was at fault, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
NTSB investigators found that pilot William Ellsworth's decision to continue flying into the poor weather due to "self-imposed pressure to complete the trip" was the cause of the fatal accident on Oct. 9, 2012, according to the July 9 report. Ellsworth was also killed. One other passenger was seriously injured in the crash.
In an emailed statement, Callie Sullivan, Tighe's widow, said, "Sadly, no amount of information can bring Tighe and his enormous spirit back to us. We had long suspected that pilot error was the cause of the accident. I guess the cautionary tale here is for people to demand that any private pilot have completed all of their instrument training on the particular aircraft they are piloting."
Ellsworth was certified to fly airplanes under instrument meteorological conditions -- or relying on instruments to fly -- but he did not have his IMC certification for helicopters, the report stated. NTSB investigators found that Ellsworth did not receive any inadvertent IMC or instrument flight rules helicopter training while at the Bell 407 helicopter training center.
The weather the evening of the crash was like "pea soup," with a visibility of less than a half mile and light rain, according to the report.
"The surviving passenger reported that, after taking off, the weather `began to get worse,' and the helicopter pilot advised the passengers that they would not be able to make it to their destination airport," according to the report. "The weather worsened, and the pilot decided to divert. When the surviving passenger looked out of the window, it was `misty and dusky.' Shortly after, the helicopter struck trees and terrain."
According to the report, Ellsworth could have returned to Somerset Airport in Somerville, N.J., or landed in a suitable area along the flight path, but he chose to enter the poor weather, "despite the availability of safer options and then was forced to divert as the weather worsened."
By the time the helicopter was in the air, the sun had set and there was little found lighting in the heavily wooded area around the highway where the helicopter crashed, according to the report.
"Therefore, it is unlikely that a discernible horizon was present, which would have significantly increased the pilot's workload because it would have required him to reference the helicopter's flight instruments to maintain the helicopter's attitude, flight path, energy state, and altitude," according to the report.
NTSB investigators found no evidence of mechanical failures or malfunctions in the helicopter.
Ellsworth, who was a pilot for American Airlines, was scheduled for a round-trip flight the day after the accident that "likely resulted in self-imposed pressure to complete the trip he was flying on the day of the accident so that he could return home and make his report time for his assigned trip on the following day," according to the report.
After the crash, police said the aircraft was attempting to escape from the weather and land at Mount Pocono Airport, but crashed just one mile from Mount Pocono, a sparsely populated town of slightly more than 2,000 people, located at a nearly 2,000-foot elevation in the mountains. The Pocono Mountains are geologically the eastern ridge of the Allegheny Plateau, which reaches to Ohio and West Virginia in the west and the Adirondack and Catskill mountains in the east.
The wreckage was found in a heavily wooded area about 300 feet from Interstate 380 near Mount Pocono, according to the report.
Sullivan, 51, was returning from a golf outing and heading toward the metro New York area, according to the report. Police said Sullivan was the front-seat passenger of the helicopter.
He was married to Callie, a former selectman and current Board of Education member, for 24 years.
He was a co-founder, managing partner and chief operating officer of WCAS Fraser Sullivan Investment Management LLC, based in New York City and Darien, according to his profile on the company website.
Prior to that, he worked as a managing director in high yield at Deutcshe Bank from 2000 to 2005 and managing director and founding partner of the high yield group at First Union. He began in high yield at Drexel Burnham Lambert in 1989 and was vice president at Dillon, Read & Co. from 1991 to 1993. He was a senior vice president at PaineWebber in high-yield sales from 1993 to 1995.
Sullivan started his career at Chase Manhattan in 1983 and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Colgate University.
"Sullivan walked the walk," according to a release from Colgate University following Sullivan's death.
He worked as an admissions volunteer and was an alumni council member at Colgate. He became a Presidents' Club chairman, according to the university, enrolling supporters in the leadership giving society.
He and Callie had three children, Jessica, Lila and Tighe.
"We continue to be so grateful to live in such a supportive community," his wife said. "While the passage of time takes away the intensity of our loss, we are still fragile, and held up by the love we get from our friends, teachers and neighbors."
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