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Wed, May 31, 2006

Patient Dies After Medevac Helo Goes Down In D.C.

Three Crewmembers Injured

A critically ill patient being transported onboard a medical helicopter that went down Tuesday evening in Washington, DC has died at a local hospital.

Steven Gaston, 51, was picked up from Washington's Greater Southeast Hospital by a medevac Eurocopter EC-135 (file photo of type, below) at approximately 4:40 Tuesday afternoon, for transport to Washington Hospital Center. Janis Orlowski, the hospital center's chief medical officer, told the Washington Post Gaston's condition was "quite unstable" when he left the hospital, and that he needed a "tertiary level" of care.

The helo -- which was also carrying the pilot and two crewmembers -- experienced problems just before reaching its destination. Its pilot issued a mayday call about five minutes into the seven-mile trip to the hospital.

Witnesses say the helo fell from clear skies onto a golf course less than a mile from Washington Hospital Center.

"I could see [the helicopter] laboring," said witness Jay Speights, who was in the golf course parking lot at the time of the accident. He told the Post he watched the helicopter circle and heard its engine sputter, before it disappeared behind a hill. Speights said he then heard "a large metal object hitting cement."

Alan Etter, spokesman for the DC fire and emergency services department, said that as passersby and rescue crews responded to the accident, the pilot, flight paramedic and flight nurse also onboard the helo gave instructions on how to care for the patient.

Etter said Gaston's breathing tube was dislodged in the crash -- but by the time paramedics were able to remove Gaston from the scene, he was breathing again. Unfortunately, Gaston later died at the hospital, approximately six hours after the crash.

The as-yet unidentified crewmembers were injured in the accident, with all three listed as in serious but stable condition Wednesday.

It is not yet known what brought the helicopter down, or if the accident contributed in any way to Gaston's death.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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