Tuesday, July 1, 2008

AZ: Firefighter Killed In Private Medical Helicopter Collision

Two medical helicopters collided on Sunday while trying to land at the same hospital, killing six, with one of them being a wildland firefighter that had been working on a fire in Grand Canyon National Park.

From the National Park Service Morning Report:
Firefighter Michael MacDonald was tragically killed in a private medical helicopter collision while being transported from the Grand Canyon to a northern Arizona hospital for a medical condition not directly related to firefighting on Sunday, June 29th. Six people, including MacDonald, were killed in the collision of two medical helicopters near Flagstaff Medical Center.

MacDonald, 26, was a member of the Chief Mountain Hot Shots, an elite Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded Native American firefighting crew based on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana. The crew was assigned to the Walla Valley Fire on the North Rim. The Chief Mountain Hot Shot crew will be released from the incident today to travel home.

From the Associated Press:
Two medical helicopters collided Sunday about a half-mile from a northern Arizona hospital, killing six people and critically injuring a nurse, a federal official said. Two emergency workers on the ground were injured after the crash.

One of the helicopters was operated by Air Methods out of Englewood, Colo., and the other was from Classic Helicopters of Woods Cross, Utah. Both aircraft were Bell 407 models, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration.

After the collision, the helicopters crashed in a wooded area east of Flagstaff Medical Center and started a 10-acre brush fire. An explosion on one of the aircraft after the crash injured two emergency workers who arrived with a ground ambulance company. They suffered minor burns, but their injuries were not life-threatening, authorities said.

"Crazy chaos, just lots of twisted metal wrapped up around people," Capt. Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the Flagstaff Fire Department, said near the crash site.

Three people on the Air Methods aircraft, including the patient, died. On the Classic helicopter, the pilot, paramedic and patient all died. A flight nurse on the Classic helicopter was in critical condition at Flagstaff Medical Center.

"It's just a very unfortunate tragedy," said Matt Stein, a program director and lead pilot with Classic Helicopters subsidiary Classic Lifeguard Aeromedical Services in Page, Ariz.

Stein said his company's crew was landing at Flagstaff Medical Center carrying a patient with a medical emergency from the Grand Canyon's South Rim.

"We've been in business 20 years, and these are the first fatalities we've experienced," Stein said. "They were all heroes. They were out doing a great service for their communities."

Stein said the pilot for Classic was experienced with more than 10,000 hours of flight time. He added that it's rare for two medical helicopters to attempt to land at a hospital at the same time.

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