All day Friday, Coast Guard helicopters and a fleet of cutters searched the waters off the shores of Edmonds for the Agusta A109/Mark II twin-engine helicopter and its crew. A half mile field of floating debris from the helicopter indicated there is no way anyone could have survived.
No witnesses actually saw the helicopter go down Thursday night, just heard it.
The pilot never made a distress call before disappearing off the radar. The crew from Airlift Northwest had just dropped off a patient at Harborview and was headed back to its home base at the Arlington Airport.
The company's dispatcher had contact with the pilot at 9:14 p.m. but was unable to contact the aircraft 10 minutes later, the company said.
An Edmonds-area resident called 911 shortly after 9 p.m. to report having heard a helicopter fly over, Jones said. The caller reported "shortly after that it sounded 'funny' and then they heard an explosion," Edmonds police Sgt. Jeff Jones said.
On board were 59-year-old Steve Smith, an experienced pilot who already survived a helicopter crash three years ago, and two flight nurses: 48-year-old Erin Reed and 47-year-old Lois Suzuki.
"I'm not going to comment on what the caused might or might not be," said Georgia Struhsaker, NTSB Investigator. "It's just way too early for that. I know people always want to ask, but we're just getting started with the investigation."
The Coast Guard found the crash site early Friday morning after searching in blackness all through the night. So far, they have found only pieces of the helicopter, and the remains of one crew member.
"Now that we have moved into a daylight search, we still continue to search the scene and work with NTSB on recovering the debris and other crew members," Capt. Steve Metruck.
While searchers look for the helicopter, investigators say it's possible that some of its pieces will wash ashore.
"If people find pieces they should leave them where they are, and call 911 as opposed to picking that stuff up. I may help us determine something about the crash site if they leave it where they find it," said Sgt. Jeff Jones of the Edmonds Police Department.
Investigators say they look at three things - man, machine and environment.
So they will check out the history of the crew, the records of helicopter, and weather conditions as part of the investigation into a possible cause of the crash.
According to the NTSB's accident database, Thursday's crash was Airlift Northwest's third helicopter accident since 1995. All three involved Agusta A109/Mark II helicopters.
A pilot and two nurses were killed on Sept. 11, 1995, when their helicopter crashed in Puget Sound near Winslow Harbor, about 12 miles southwest of Thursday's crash site. A federal investigation found the pilot failed to maintain sufficient altitude above the water.
Smith barely survived a crash in 2002, which the NTSB said was caused by engine failure in his helicopter. Smith, the only person on board, tore an artery near his heart, broke his back and fractured every rib on his left side.
Smith was a married father of four who learned to fly in Vietnam. He had flown for Airlift Northwest since 1988.
David Baker, Harborview's acting medical director for emergency services, said he and his colleagues had profound respect for the work Reed and Suzuki did.
"In some ways, flight nurses have to have the skills of a paramedic, the knowledge of a critical care nurse and the judgment of an emergency room physician," he said at a news conference.
Reed worked as a firefighter and paramedic before joining Airlift Northwest in 1997. A burn survivor, she was described as a talented nurse who inspired confidence in her colleagues and wasn't shy about giving pointers to doctors.
"The other day, she brought in a patient, and she was correcting some of the things I was doing, and I was OK with that," Baker said.
Suzuki was a pediatric nurse who had worked at Airlift Northwest since 1998. An avid outdoorswoman, she was often hiking or running when she wasn't working.