Hospital helicopter crashes in Nebraska

Friday, June 21, 2002

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) -- A pilot was killed when a medical helicopter crashed while trying to make an emergency landing at an airport Friday.

Two other people -- a nurse and a paramedic -- were taken to the local hospital, but their conditions were not immediately known, Police Capt. Leon Chapman said.

At least one of those hospitalized was considered to be "very seriously injured," said Tony Molinaro, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

No one else was on board when the crash occurred shortly after noon, Molinaro said.

Authorities did not immediately know why the helicopter was attempting to land at the airport shortly after it took off from the Norfolk hospital, about three miles away.

Winds were blowing up to 30 mph at the time of the crash. The sky conditions were clear to partly cloudy with nearly unlimited visibility.

All three people who were on board are employees of LifeNet of the Heartland, said Lee McCammon, regional director for the medical transportation company based in Olathe, Kan.

McCammon said he did not know where the helicopter was going and what problem it was experiencing when it attempted to land.

"This is very serious," McCammon said. "Of course, we're most concerned about our surviving crew members."

A witness, Lynn Stewart of Norfolk, said the helicopter had touched down at the airport when it immediately went back up in the air and started to gyrate. He said the helicopter was flying erratically as it reached about 100 feet in the air before diving nose first.

"I think he was just trying to get the thing straightened out, then it slowly was just climbing and spinning, climbing and spinning," Stewart said. "It looked like it went in nose first."

Stewart said a twin-engine prop plane was coming in for a landing about the same time and likely witnessed the crash as it circled the airport. Stewart said he did not believe the approaching airplane caused the helicopter to crash.

The FAA said no other aircraft was involved.

The Karl Stefan Memorial Airport is located three miles southwest of Norfolk. The wreckage was visible from a nearby road.

It is the first time since LifeNet was created in 1996 that one of its fleet of eight medical aircraft had crashed, McCammon said. Besides Norfolk, the company also has crews based in Omaha and some cities in Kansas and Missouri.


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