The man who died when the helicopter he was piloting crashed and caught fire last month in Red Bud shouldn’t have been flying, an aviation expert told the Republic-Times.
The helicopter, which was flown by 74-year-old Welda W. DeRousse Jr., crashed about 2 p.m. Sept. 19, into EZ Self-Storage, 1290 W. Market Street, Red Bud.
DeRousse, who had owned EZ Self-Storage since 1993, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“It’s fortunate that no one on the ground got hurt,” said Robert Katz of Dallas, who has served as a commercial pilot for 40 years and is a flight instructor.
Katz, who tracks aircraft crashes nationwide, said pilot information gathered online from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board indicates DeRousse did not have current medical certification to fly.
The last medical certificate for DeRousse to fly an aircraft was issued in May 2003. Recreational pilots require at least a third class medical certificate. Pilots over the age of 40 must be medically certified every two years.
“We know the expiration dates of our medicals like we know our birthdays,” Katz said.
A resident who lives near the storage facility told the Republic-Times near the crash scene on Sept. 19 that he saw a helicopter make a circle in the air before hearing a booming crash. Smoke and flames could be seen shooting from the building shortly after the crash.
Responding agencies included the Red Bud police and fire departments, Med Star Ambulance, Randolph County Sheriff’s Department, Randolph County Coroner’s Office and Illinois State Police.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board continue to investigate the crash. Katz said a final report could take up to two years to complete.
The preliminary FAA crash report lists the type of helicopter as a 2002 Canadian Home Rotors Safari. The experimental kit aircraft owned by DeRousse “crashed under unknown circumstances into a storage building and caught fire,” the report states.
“It’s a kit he built himself,” Katz explained of the type of helicopter.
An NTSB preliminary crash report states that “surveillance video footage depicted the helicopter hovering near a storage building,” but added the accident sequence itself was not captured and the helicopter appeared to be operating normally at that time.
“A witness mowing her lawn across the street observed the helicopter approaching before the accident,” the NTSB report states. “She noted the pilot usually proceeded between a bank and the storage building. After completing a mowing pass, she looked toward the storage building and the tail of the helicopter appeared to contact the building. The helicopter subsequently came to rest on its left side adjacent to the building and a post-impact fire ensued.”
DeRousse was an Army veteran of the Vietnam War who enjoyed flying and had his helicopter and pilot license, according to his obituary.