FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Two medical helicopters collided yesterday afternoon about a half-mile from a northern Arizona hospital, killing at least six people and critically injuring a nurse, a federal official said. Two emergency workers on the ground were injured after the crash.
Three of the fatalities were aboard a Bell 407 helicopter operated by Air Methods out of Englewood, Colo. At least one of the dead was the patient.
Four other victims were aboard a Bell 407 helicopter operated by Classic Helicopters of Woods Cross, Utah. Three were killed and one was critically injured.
Matt Stein, a spokesman for Classic Helicopters, 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. Stein said the helicopter's pilot, paramedic, and patient all died in the crash. A flight nurse was in critical condition at Flagstaff Medical Center.
"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."
Captain Mark Johnson, spokesman for the Flagstaff Fire Department, said the helicopters crashed in a wooded area about a half-mile from the medical center. The helicopters spread debris across the scene.
"They're not recognizable as helicopters," he said.
The crash started a 10-acre brush fire that authorities were able to extinguish, said Coconino County sheriff's spokesman Gerry Blair.
The cause of the crash is being investigated. Hospital spokeswoman Starla Addair said she did not have any information to release.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said a team will leave for Flagstaff from Washington, D.C., today to take over the crash investigation from the FAA.
The collision was the second medical helicopter crash near Flagstaff in two days. On Friday, a paramedic, nurse, and pilot were injured when their copter crashed while heading to Ash Fork to pick up a patient. Their injuries were not life-threatening.
Two news helicopters collided while covering an auto chase last summer near Phoenix, killing all four people on board.
Earlier this month, a medical helicopter on its way to a Houston hospital crashed in a national forest in Huntsville, Texas, killing all four people aboard.
Rescue crews struggled to find the wreckage in the dense Sam Houston National Forest, about 70 miles north of Houston.
The crash of the PHI Air Medical helicopter killed the patient, a flight nurse, a paramedic, and the pilot.
In May, a medical helicopter crash near La Crosse, Wis., killed a surgeon, nurse, and pilot.
The copter had dropped off a patient and crashed shortly after taking off on its return flight to Madison.
Yesterday was a deadly day in aviation across the country, with fatal crashes also reported in Alabama and New Mexico.
Five people were killed in a plane crash at a small airport in Santa Rosa, N.M. The federal Aviation Administration said the plane crashed almost immediately after takeoff yesterday from Santa Rosa Route 66 Airport.
The pilot in the Santa Rosa crash did not contact air traffic control before the accident.
Police said the plane, a Cessna 206, caught fire after crashing.
In Alabama, four people died after a small plane crashed shortly after takeoff about 40 miles north of Birmingham.
The county sheriff's office said the twin-engine Beechcraft BE-55 was bound for the Alabama coast it went down about 8 a.m. in woods not far from the Walker County Airport in Jasper.
The causes of the airplane crashes were not determined.
The medical copter crash occurred in daylight, but several recent medical copter crashes have been blamed on night vision problems. Five US medical helicopters have crashed in the dark since 2006, killing 16 people, according to a study by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Federal officials said the war in Iraq has created a shortage of night vision goggles for civilian pilots who fly medical helicopters in the United States. The NTSB has encouraged the use of such equipment to reduce the risk of deadly nighttime crashes during emergency medical flights.