McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

June 12, 2013

Investigators on scene at Tallihina after medical helicopter from McAlester crashes

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — A patient picked up by an EagleMed helicopter dispatched from McAlester died Tuesday night after the helicopter crashed soon after takeoff at the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center in Talihina.

A flight nurse aboard the flight was listed in critical condition early Wednesday, according to information from the Choctaw Nation Health Services and EagleMed.

A paramedic and the pilot who were also on board the helicopter were treated and released, according to EagleMed.

Names of the deceased person as well as the injured flight nurse were still being withheld as of early Wednesday.

The man who died was 49 years old and from the local area, according to David Wharton, public information officer for the Choctaw Nation Health Services, who was on the scene at the Talihina hospital early Wednesday.

The crash occurred around 6:30 Tuesday night, said Brandy Griffin, a public information officer at the hospital.

 McAlester Regional Health Center Chief Executive Officer David Keith confirmed that the helicopter had been dispatched from McAlester hospital.

The crash occurred after the patient had been placed on board in Talihina for transport to a hospital in Tulsa, according to Wharton.

“It happened upon take-off,” Wharton said. The helicopter crashed “literally yards from our emergency department,” he said.

“We were on the scene immediately,” Wharton said. “We enacted our disaster policy.”

Two of the injured were able to get out of the crashed helicopter with minimal assistance,” Wharton said. It took more of an effort to get the injured nurse and the patient extracted from the helicopter.

The patient was pronounced dead at the hospital, according to Wharton.

The Federal Aviation Administration had personnel at the Choctaw Nation hospital in Talihina early Wednesday and personnel from the National Transportation Safety Board were also enroute to help with the investigation.

Meanwhile, several who were at the scene, who did not want to be publicly identified, said it appeared that the helicopter hit a light pole in the parking lot upon takeoff. One witness said it looked like a gust of wind pushed the helicopter into the pole. That could not be independently confirmed by press time.

Wilburton Fire Chief David Donoley joined those rushing to the site of the crash. He praised the Talihina Fire Department for having the scene contained, but firefighters faced another problem.

“We stayed on the scene because of leaking jet fuel,” Donoley said. “Our main concern was ignition of jet fuel and the explosion that would follow.”

Firefighters literally dammed some of the jet fuel to keep it from spreading further.

“We had to contain that until the HAZMAT team got there,” Donoley said. Fortunately for those at the site, no explosion occurred because of the leaking jet fuel.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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