Officials release preliminary report on Acton reality TV helicopter crash

ACTON — A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board reveals new details about a helicopter crash that killed three men as they were filming a reality TV show last month on a movie ranch, but does not point to a cause of the crash.
Pilot David Gibbs, 59, of Valencia, actor Darren Rydstrom, 46, of Whittier, and cameraman Michael Donatelli, 45, of Pennsylvania, died in the crash, which took place about 3:30 a.m. Feb. 10 at the Polsa Rosa Ranch, according to Los Angeles County coroner’s officials and the NTSB report.
They were working on an untitled reality TV show involving the military for Discovery Channel, according to permits obtained by Redondo Beach-based production company Bongo Inc.
“The tentative plan was for an actor to drop a backpack to the ground while the helicopter was in a hover, enabling the cameras to film the airborne actor, the backpack receiver on the ground and the helicopter executing the mission,” according to the preliminary NTSB report.
After completing one of the backpack dropping mission successfully with one actor late Feb. 9, the crew had a catered lunch and the pilot, Gibbs, slept for an hour and a half to two hours, according to the NTSB.
The pilot made two requests for additional lighting while performing the flights, both of which were granted by the film crew, according to the report.
After Gibbs removed frost from the rotor blades, the Bell Helicopter 206B HetRanger took off again at about 3:30 a.m. with Rydstrom sitting in the front passenger seat and Donatelli filming from the back seat, officials said.
“Witnesses onserved the helicopter depart normally from and fly toward the plateau from the west,” the NTSB report states. “When maneuvering about 60 mph, the helicopter suddently pitched down and collided with the terrain below the valley’s wall.”
The film crew was expecting the helicopter to make high passes before carrying out the maneuvers for the scene, the report noted. The cameras on the ground were not filming at the time of the crash.
The wreckage was recovered for further examination, and on-board audio and video recording devices were collected and sent to NTSB headquarters.
The investigation remained ongoing.
It often takes months for the NTSB to determine the official cause of accidents, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer.

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