EDEN — A Duke Energy spokesman confirmed Friday that the wreckage from the fatal April 28 crash of the company's Bell 429 helicopter has been removed from the accident site here and transported to an undisclosed location for further study.
And a preliminary report about the cause of the accident may come early next week, officials said.
Examiners from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived the night of the incident that claimed the life of former military pilot Christopher Shane Keebler of Enterprise, Alabama, and injured two other Duke employees on board.
Investigators for both agencies spent about two days reviewing the crash site, searching for clues to why the twin-engine advanced technology aircraft fell from the sky on a clear sunny day, just a stone's throw from Duke's Dan River Combined Cycle Station.
Typically, NTSB investigators recommend disposal of aircraft wreckage if they feel certain they understand the cause of a crash, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway of Washington, D.C., said. But if investigators need to review rubble further, they order an aircraft's remains be moved and stored securely, Holloway said. The NTSB and FAA issue their preliminary findings about 12 days after a crash, Holloway said. Monday will mark the twelfth day since the accident.
"Due to security reasons and an ongoing investigation, we cannot provide the location of the wreckage except to say it has been removed from the area,'' Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said of the scorched helicopter body Friday.
Pilot Keebler and two other men, all Duke Energy employees, were conducting a routine aerial survey of power lines and vegetation when their helicopter, carrying a heavy fuel load, crashed and burst into flames around 1:30 p.m. near the Rosewood Lane residential area just off South Edgewood Road, a half mile from Freedom Park, officials said.
Both injured men are recovering at home, Brooks of Duke Energy said Friday, though he declined to disclose their names or details of their injuries. The men were conscious just after impact and managed to escape the fiery wreckage, according to Rodney Cates, director of Emergency Services for Rockingham County.
One of the men was treated and released from UNC Rockingham Health Care here the day as the crash. The other more seriously injured passenger was air lifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for treatment.
"For company policy and employee privacy reasons, we are not releasing the names of the employees.,'' Brooks said in a Friday email. "They have been released from the hospital and continue to recover.''
Keebler of Enterprise, Alabama, who served in the military for 21 years, had worked for Duke Energy since 2016, according to a biography shared by friends on social media. He first enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as a Navy diver for nine years before transitioning to the U.S. Army, training to fly helicopters and serving in Afghanistan.
In addition to his routine work for Duke Energy, Keebler, who attained the highest level of FAA pilot qualifications and banked thousands of flight hours, flew emergency response missions in support of Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Dorian, among others, his friend Scott Bishop chronicled on a GoFundMe site set up to benefit Keebler's widow and two sons.
Known to friends and fellow soldiers by his nickname "Cookie," Keebler was humble and empathetic and a devoted husband to Joni Keebler and an energetic father to young sons, Mason and Reese.
With a goal of $25,000, the GoFundMe site had raised more than $22,000 by Friday night at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/shane-cookie-keebler-memorial-fund.
"He was kind beyond measure, extending courtesies no matter how tired he may have been. He was understanding and empathetic no matter the circumstances. He found the good in everyone and went out of his way to tell you what your strengths were.''