Flightmed archive for September-2002
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Flightmed archive for September-2002



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RE: The Mercy Air crash



Our prayers go out to the family and friends of the pilot and crew and all of the good people at Mercy Air.  May God bless and love you.

 

 

 

Another article from the Las Vegas paper:

 

NEVADA-CALIFORNIA BORDER: Crew killed in copter crash

Two Las Vegans, Nye County deputy sheriff die when rescue flight goes down

By J.M. KALIL
REVIEW-JOURNAL

A Pahrump-based medical emergency helicopter crashed in California en route to a car accident early Saturday, killing all three Mercy Air crew members on board.

The cause of the 4:40 a.m. crash near Interstate 15 just south of the Nevada border was not immediately apparent and remains under investigation, federal officials at the scene said.

Killed were pilot Marshall Butler, 46, of Pahrump; flight nurse Ana Coburn, 30, of Las Vegas; and paramedic Kalaya Jarbsunthie, 31, of Las Vegas. No patients were on board.

"We're all pretty shocked by this," said Nye County Sheriff Wade Lieseke, for whom Butler worked as a deputy sheriff. "He's flown medical helicopters for quite a while. He's very competent and very efficient."

The incident is the second fatal crash in less than four years involving a medical helicopter based at the Pahrump Medical Center in the community about 50 miles west of Las Vegas.

The Bell 222 helicopter went down about six miles south of the Nevada-California border on its way to a car crash in Baker, said Jim Meloon, an operations officer for the Federal Aviation Administration in Los Angeles.

Authorities said it appeared the three crew members were killed instantly upon the aircraft's impact in a field several hundred yards east of I-15 near Yates Well Road.

No distress call was made by the aircraft, said Mercy spokeswoman Lee Haney.

She said the helicopter had departed its base at Pahrump Medical Center to respond to a car crash in Baker, about 70 miles south of the hospital.

Seconds before the crash, the aircraft was flying at about 150 feet above ground, level with its spotlight illuminating the area below, witnesses traveling I-15 at the time told investigators.

"It's unknown at this point whether they were trying to find a place to land because they were having trouble or whether he was just coming around on approach to the (car) accident site," Lieseke said.

Still miles from the car accident, the helicopter suddenly plummeted to the ground and exploded in flames upon impact, the witnesses said.

Lieseke said witnesses reported that a second explosion followed shortly afterward.

"We can only speculate that that may have been oxygen bottles on board," the sheriff said after speaking to FAA and National Transportation Safety Board officials at the scene.

Authorities said the NTSB is leading the probe into the cause of the accident. Sgt. Jake Jecusco of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said FAA and NTSB investigators expect to continue collecting evidence at the crash site until this afternoon.

Haney, the Mercy spokeswoman, said the company was working Saturday to arrange grief counseling for the 45 to 50 workers who knew those killed in the crash.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of our crew that were lost in this terribly unfortunate accident," said David Dolstein, president and chief executive officer of Mercy.

Jarbsunthie, the paramedic killed, was one of the many children Clark County Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey took into her home and raised as her own, said Debbie Swan, the commissioner's niece and the manager of her North Las Vegas floral shop.

The commissioner and her family issued a statement that said, "Kalaya was deeply loved by her family. She was a special person and we are completely devastated by this. We want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers and we take great comfort in our faith in God."

Jarbsunthie got her job as an air paramedic about one month ago and planned to be married Oct. 5, Swan said.

"The wedding invitations just went out this week," Swan said. "She was excited about getting married and was so excited about her new job. She loved it."

The nurse killed, Coburn, was the daughter of former White Pine County Commissioner Cheryl Noriega.

White Pine County Clerk Donna Bath, a close friend of Noriega, said in a phone interview from Ely that Noriega resigned her commission seat three weeks ago to move to Las Vegas and live with her recently divorced daughter.

Noriega was going to help the single mother take care of her two children, Bath said.

On his way to the crash site Saturday afternoon, Lieseke described Butler as a good officer, a highly experienced pilot and a family man devoted to his wife, teenage daughter and two younger sons.

"He was just a great guy, very outgoing," Lieseke said.

Sheriff's deputies were sent to notify Butler's wife of his death early Saturday, a task that Lieseke said was especially difficult for them because the newly widowed woman is also their co-worker.

Butler's wife is a sheriff's deputy on the tight-knit force that polices Nye County.

"She became a deputy first and he followed her," Lieseke said. "She was extremely distraught this morning."

Saturday's accident was the first in the history of Mercy, Haney said.

However, Mercy last year purchased its competitor Flight for Life, the company involved in the previous fatal air ambulance accident.

The April 3, 1999, crash of a Flight for Life helicopter about 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas killed three employees.

Pilot James Bond Jr., 42, and two flight nurses, Kathy Batterman, 44, and Leroy Shelton, 37, died when the Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm Bo-105 smashed into a patch of land just off Old Ben Road near Indian Springs. The NTSB ruled that pilot error and punishing weather that reduced visibility to less than 50 yards caused the crash.

Jim Harrison, a forecaster for the National Weather Service, said that at the time of Saturday's crash, there was no notable weather in the area.

"There were light winds out of the south to southwest, about 8 mph, but there were no restrictions to visibility, nothing," Harrison said.

The lowest clouds reported were about 10,000 feet, Harrison said, well above the altitude authorities said the helicopter was flying.


 


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