‘Airwolf’ Crash Probers Point to Pilot Error

Times Staff Writer

Pilot error probably was the cause of the fatal crash last Friday of a helicopter being used in filming the television series “Airwolf,” federal investigators said Wednesday.

A team of investigators has all but ruled out malfunction of the craft, “and that seems to leave the human element, the pilot,” Alan Crawford, National Transportation Safety Board senior inspector, said.

Peter J. McKernan Jr., vice president of Jetcopters Inc., which employed the pilot, Scott Maher, and owned the helicopter, said he found it “very, very difficult” to accept the NTSB’s preliminary finding.


“Scott is a great pilot, with years and years of experience, including thousands of hours of low-level flight, such as this was,” McKernan said. “Until Scott regains his memory and all the facts are in, I can’t accept pilot error as the cause.”

Maher, 36, was pulled from the downed Bell 205 helicopter shortly before it burst into flames. He remained in satisfactory condition Wednesday at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, where he is being treated for a head injury, multiple fractures and scrapes and cuts.

The accident occurred without warning while Maher was piloting the helicopter at about 85 m.p.h. about 200 feet above gently rolling terrain several miles west of Newhall.

McKernan said the helicopter was being filmed to provide stock footage for the action-adventure series, which stars Jan-Michael Vincent as pilot of a high-tech helicopter that performs perilous missions for an unnamed government agency.

“On a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, I would say this sequence was less than a 1,” McKernan said.

Earlier Wednesday, more than 500 stuntmen and other show business people attended the funeral for stuntman Reid Rondell, 22, who was burned to death in the crash. Rondell was standing in for Vincent.


Rondell, a third-generation stuntman, was eulogized by fellow stuntman Jeb Adams as a fun-loving daredevil for whom “the film business was a playground, and he loved it with a passion.”

After the one-hour service in Newhall, stuntmen gathered at the Rondell family’s Canoga Park home “to drink and celebrate Reid’s life the way he would have wanted us to,” said Reid’s brother, R. A. Rondell, 28, who is stunt coordinator on the “T. J. Hooker” television series.