Helicopter crashes after leaving roof of hospital in Cleveland

Saturday, January 19, 2002

CLEVELAND -- A helicopter crashed just after taking off from the roof of a Cleveland hospital early Friday, killing the pilot and a nurse and seriously injuring a medic, officials said.

The helicopter slammed into an unoccupied car at University Hospitals of Cleveland and broke into pieces, with only the tail recognizable in the twisted wreckage. Witnesses reported loud explosions and large flames shooting into the air after the crash.

"The smoke just engulfed the whole building -- it was seven stories high. People started running out of the hospital," said Natatia Lin, 24, who lives about 300 feet from the hospital and felt the explosions.

Killed were the pilot, William R. Spence, 51, and flight nurse Kelly Conti, 38, the State Highway Patrol said.

A medic, Joe Paoletta, 29, was taken to the burn unit of MetroHealth Medical Center. Police Lt. Sharon MacKay said he suffered burns over 25 percent his body and was in serious condition.

Hospital spokesman Eric Sandstrom said the crash occurred at about 12:30 a.m. as the crew was heading to another hospital to pick up a patient.

The crash left a trail of broken windows from the top of a 12-story tower at University Hospitals, located in a neighborhood of museums, colleges and well-kept homes. The hospital's emergency room was closed for several hours, and about 15 patients were evacuated as a precaution.

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