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Three crew members survive helicopter crash off Captiva

By Staff | Aug 19, 2009

Critical Care air ambulance service returned to normal on Tuesday afternoon in Lee County as MEDSTAR 2 returned to full service following Monday’s helicopter crash in the waters off of Upper Captiva.

Around 12:30 a.m. on Aug. 17, MEDSTAR 1 – which flew about 25 percent of the air ambulance mission requests during the past five years in Lee County – went down with three crew members aboard.

All three MEDSTAR 1 crew members – pilot Diana Tackett and paramedics Dave Duncan and Jason Ausman – were rescued from the Intracoastal Waterway safely and without serious injury. The three had been responding to an emergency call on nearby Captiva Island.

“The pilot and two medics were on top of chopper,” said Bob Kinniry, assistant fire chief for Upper Captiva Fire & Rescue. “They said, ‘We’re covered in fuel. We need to get out of here.'”

Kinniry was one of three responders, which also included volunteers Ed “Zeke” McDonald and Red Anders, to assist with Monday’s water rescue. They were joined by a helicopter team from Hendry County, who transported the downed pilot and paramedics to Lee Memorial Hospital.

“I was very relieved to see the crew sitting on top of the landing gear,” said McDonald, who was piloting the rescue boat. “It was a very dark night, with a stiff breeze coming from the north, but they guided us right to them with their flashlights and their strobes.”

All three MEDSTAR 1 crew members attribute the safety training they received to saving their lives in the accident, the first in 34 years of operations in Lee County for MEDSTAR.

MEDSTAR 1, an American Eurocopter EC-145, tail number N911LZ, was in the water just under 24 hours. It was pulled out of the water by crane at 12:02 a.m. on Tuesday. The helicopter is valued at approximately $5.5 million.

“The aircraft looked to be intact when we rescued the crew, but when they pulled the wreckage out of the water on Tuesday and it came up in pieces, you’ve got to be even more thankful that all of them were found alive,” added McDonald.

The helicopter is currently housed at the Lee County Mosquito Control hangar at Buckingham Air Park in Lehigh Acres, where it will be examined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Those two agencies have total control over the aircraft until their investigations are complete.

Crew members from the downed MEDSTAR 1 helicopter continued to recuperate and help FAA and NTSB investigators determine the cause of the crash through interviews today. County administrators have asked them not to participate in media interviews until the FAA and NTSB investigation is complete.

MEDSTAR 2 is an American Eurocopter BO 105 with the ability to carry two patients and two paramedics. It is currently servicing the critical care needs of Lee and backup for Collier counties until Collier’s aircraft is operational again.