Report: Chopper that crashed northwest of Tucson attempting to land

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- A preliminary report from a federal agency says the pilot who died in the crash of a helicopter two weeks ago was attempting to land on top of a mountain.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its initial report on the January 31 crash of the helicopter owned by the Pima County Sheriff's Department.  It confirms that veteran pilot Loren Leonberger had touched down on top of Waterman Peak in a remote area northwest of Tucson.  But passengers inside and an eyewitness say the helicopter, "bounced or lifted off again."  It says the nose pitched down and the helicopter began to spin to the right.  The helicopter, "tumbled and slid about 120 feet down the northeast face of the peak before it was halted by rocks and vegetation."

Three other people on board the helicopter were injured, two seriously.

The report says there were winds in the area at 9 knots with gusts to 16 knots at the Tucson International Airport, but it makes no mention of potential stronger winds at the crash site.  There was some speculation the day of the crash that the helicopter may have encountered a microburst as part of a storm system moving through the area.

The helicopter was on a mission to identify locations for radio transmission towers in the area.

The wreckage of the helicopter was taken by the NTSB to a Phoenix facility where the report says the engine was removed and tested.  It says during the test, "the engine developed rated power, and engine performance exceeded minimum vlaues for overhauled engines, and no anomalies were noted".

The report confirms the Pima County Sheriff's Department acquired the helicopter in 2008.  It says the most recent annual inspection was in April, 2010.  It had been flown 115 hours since that inspection. 

A final report from the NTSB on the crash, which will likely include the cause, may not be released for up to two years.