Three people were killed early Tuesday morning when a medical helicopter from Hospital Wing Memphis crashed into a thickly wooded area in Somerville.
The pilot, a nurse and a respiratory therapist were on their way to Bolivar, Tenn., to pick up a young boy in renal failure when the helicopter went down about a mile south of Fayette Academy on U.S. 64, about 50 miles from Memphis.
The helicopter virtually disintegrated on impact, said officials who saw the crash site. This makes the second time in fewer than four years that a medical helicopter has crashed in West Tennessee, killing all on board.
The cause of the crash was unknown Tuesday. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board will join Federal Aviation Administration officials at the site to try and determine why the Eurocopter AS350B3 crashed.
While there had been some rain overnight Monday, winds were mild with no severe weather in the Memphis area, according to the National Weather Service.
Bill Conway, CEO of Hospital Wing Memphis, said he had to “defer” questions about the specifics of the crash.
The helicopter took off from Memphis and about 6:20 a.m., Hospital Wing officials grew concerned when their communications center didn’t receive a routine check-in call from the aircraft.
Hospital Wing then contacted the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, asking them to begin a search. Joined by other agencies, the sheriff’s department launched a helicopter to look for any signs of a crash. They spotted the crash site from the air a little while later. The boy was transported to Le Bonheur by ambulance.
The hospital was not yet releasing the names of those killed in the crash, but they were part of the hospital’s Pedi-Flite Team. Pediatric emergency physician Dr. Jay Pershad called them a “dedicated group of professionals.”
“We would tell the families how very proud we are of their loved ones,” Conway said. “You can’t do this job without loving what you do. You can’t do this job without loving emergency medicine.”
Hospital Wing is a nonprofit operation that transports critically ill and injured patients within a 150-mile radius of Memphis. The service is a consortium of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Baptist Healthcare and the Regional Medical Center at Memphis. The unit, which began in 1985, currently operates seven helicopters making around 400 flights a year.
“We’ll continue to go out and rescue children wherever they’re at,” Le Bonheur President Meri Armour said, though adding that flights were suspended Tuesday.
Three years ago, a similar crash of a medical helicopter in Brownsville, Tenn., also took the lives of all three people on board. Bad weather was partly to blame for that crash.
In the March 2010 crash, pilot William Phillips, a retired police officer from Bartlett, 58, and nurses Cynthia Parker, 48, of Dyersburg and Misty Brogdon, 36, of Jackson, were all killed.
The National Transportation Safety Board ruled Phillips’ “risky decision” to attempt to outrun an approaching thunderstorm was the probable cause of the fatal crash.
Barbara Wells was a flight nurse for Hospital Wing for 24 years, but quit soon after that 2010 crash.
“That was enough,” she said Tuesday. “… It’s a dangerous industry. Just the nature of the job. Most crashes occur in take-offs and landings. It is low-altitude (flying). Just a very dangerous thing.”
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