Four killed in medical helicopter crash

June 9, 2008 3:38:31 AM PDT
A patient and three members of a medical helicopter crew ferrying him to a Houston hospital died Sunday when their helicopter crashed on a private ranch in the Sam Houston National Forest, authorities said.Walker County Chief Deputy Butch Davis identified the dead as patient David Disman, flight nurse Jana Bishop, pilot Wayne Kirby and flight paramedic Stephanie Waters.

Davis said the PHI Air Medical helicopter crew was taking Disman, 58, from Huntsville Memorial Hospital to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston at the time of the crash for surgery. He had no information on Disman's hometown.

Debris was strewn over a wide area of the heavily wooded terrain. Davis said the flight left Huntsville at 2:45 a.m. and the hospital lost contact with the helicopter two minutes later. Searchers didn't find the wreckage for almost six hours. "We had to bring a 'dozer in to get us a right-of-way into the wreckage," he said. The bulldozer was used to clear a path about 60 yards off a ranch road.

Davis said the ranch owner wasn't on the ranch at the time of the crash.

Debris from the wreckage was strewn over a wide area. The bodies were recovered and taken to Dallas for autopsies.

The PHI Air Medical helicopter was headed from Huntsville to Houston when a missed check-in with dispatch raised concern, company spokesman Jonathan Collier said. The aircraft was found about 10 miles from where it had taken off, he said.

"This is a devastating loss," Collier said.

Davis said the crash site was on the flight pattern to the Houston hospital. He said weather was clear at the time of the crash.

PHI Air Medical said the flight crew's last successful mission came several hours earlier when they helped save a 2-year-old child pulled from a swimming pool.

"They will be remembered for their professionalism, compassion for others, magnetic personalities and their unwavering dedication for the wellbeing of others," the company said in a statement.

Bishop, from Magnolia, had worked for the company since January 2005. Kirby. from Bryan, had more than 30 years of experience as a pilot for PHI, including flights in Antarctica and Africa. Walters, of Cedar Park, had been with the company since May 2006.

The company declined to release any information on its patient.

Collier said all the company's helicopters are equipped with GPS locators that keep track of the aircraft. He said rescue teams began looking for the crash site based on the last coordinates logged.

The Sam Houston National Forest, one of four national forests in Texas, covers more than 163,000 acres.

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