By James Beaty
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 helicopter was listed in critical but stable condition Wednesday afternoon, according to 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 Wednesday.
The pilot was identified by EagleMed as Kip Sorensen, of Montana. The paramedic who was treated was Ryan Setzkorn, of Oklahoma, according to Robbie Copeland, director of public relations and marketing for EagleMed.
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.
Personnel from the Choctaw Tribal Police, who will likely lead the local phase of the investigation, the Latimer County Sheriff’s Department, the Wilburton Police Department and the Talihina Police Department were among those who rushed to the scene.
Latimer County Sheriff’s Investigator Billy Dickson said three other medical helicopters flew to the hospital in Talihina after the Tuesday night crash.
Copeland said the helicopter that crashed was a Eurocopter A Star B2.
He said he did not have information immediately available at the time about whether the flight crew members lived in McAlester, but they were definitely working out of McAlester on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, along with the tragic human cost, the crash has left the McAlester Regional Health Center without the services of a medical helicopter for the time being.
Asked when another medical helicopter would be available for service at the McAlester hospital, Copeland said, “We’re going to be working on that; I don’t have a date.”
The Tuesday night crash at Talihina marked the second crash of an EagleMed helicopter this year. Two people were killed and another critically injured following an EagleMed crash in Oklahoma City in February.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.
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