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Mon, Jun 09, 2008

Medical Helicopter Down In TX, Four Lost

Search Crews Struggle To Reach Wreckage In Heavily Wooded Area

A medical helicopter enroute to a Houston, TX hospital went down early Sunday morning in a heavily wooded national forest near Huntsville. Authorities report all four aboard were lost.

The Houston Chronicle reports crews struggled to find and reach the wreckage of the Bell 407 (type shown above) in the dense Sam Houston National Forest. "The helicopter was totally disintegrated upon impact," said Department of Public Safety Trooper John Sampa. "It took down a couple of pine trees."

The helicopter, operated by Louisiana-based PHI Air Medical, departed Huntsville Memorial Hospital and was heading to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.

Sampa said the Montgomery County Hospital communications center lost contact with the helicopter about 0247 local shortly after departure.  At 0300, the pilot failed to report the position of the helicopter and authorities were alerted as protocol dictates the pilot to give a position check every 15 minutes.

PHI said it tracked the downed helicopter through the onboard global position system device.

A Department of Public Safety helicopter crew spotted the wreck about 10 miles from where it had taken off according to PHI spokesman Jonathan Collier. Ground crews were able to reach the site by 0845 local.

"This is a devastating loss," Collier said.

Those lost in the accident were flight nurse Jana Bishop, pilot Wayne Kirby and flight paramedic Stephanie Waters, all PHI employees. The name of the patient on board and the medical emergency involved were not released.

"PHI Air Medical is devastated by the loss of the patient and our friends and colleagues," the company said in a statement. "We mourn with the patient's family for their loss and are with the families of our colleagues at this time."

Jennifer Kaiser, an air safety investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived on scene at 1615 local Sunday and will lead the investigation. Others from Washington, DC and Dallas are enroute, and were due to arrive Monday morning at the crash site, about 70 miles north of Houston.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov, www.faa.gov, www.phihelico.com

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