Medevac Fleet Grounded After Deadly Md. Crash
Monday, September 29, 2008
The Maryland State Police rescue helicopter that crashed and killed four people yesterday vanished from radar in worsening weather moments after the pilot reported problems in acquiring a radio signal needed to guide him to its landing spot.
The helicopter went down in dense woods three miles north of Andrews Air Force Base, where the aircraft was rerouted because of the weather after picking up two car crash victims in Southern Maryland.
The helicopter crash, the worst accident in the history of Maryland's rescue helicopter program, prompted authorities to ground the fleet yesterday until air safety investigators make a preliminary finding on the cause. Until then, helicopters from the U.S. Park Police, Delaware and Pennsylvania state police, and commercial companies will cover the state, police said.
Federal transportation investigators will probably not issue a final report on the accident's cause for months. "Certainly, these were challenging conditions for this pilot," said Debbie Hersman, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The helicopter, an American Eurocopter Dauphin II based at Andrews, was carrying five people, including the car accident victims, when it slammed into the middle of Walker Mill Regional Park in Prince George's County, coming down near an area where a paved path crosses a creek. The impact knocked down at least one tree, which toppled on the fuselage.
Rescue workers had to use a crane to lift the tree. A person at the rescue scene described conditions as "very foggy," Hersman said yesterday.
Authorities identified those killed as Stephen J. Bunker, 59, the pilot, a retired state trooper working as a civilian pilot; Trooper Mickey C. Lippy, 34, an onboard paramedic; Tonya Mallard, 39, a volunteer emergency worker from Southern Maryland; and Ashley J. Younger, 17, a recent high school graduate from Waldorf who was one of the car crash victims.
Jordan Wells, 18, of Waldorf, the driver of the car in which Younger had been riding, survived and was hospitalized in critical condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
About 10:45 p.m. Saturday, Charles County authorities said, Wells was driving a 2003 Ford Taurus on Smallwood Drive in Waldorf when the car crossed the median, hit several trees, veered into oncoming traffic and collided with a Honda CRX.
Wells and her passenger, Younger, suffered serious injuries. Authorities said yesterday that the accident is under investigation.
One of the local rescue workers responding to the car crash was Mallard, a Waldorf mother of two who had served as an EMT in Waldorf since 2004, according to colleagues at Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department Station 12. Minutes later, the state police helicopter arrived, landing outside a nearby elementary school. Wells and Younger were placed inside.
"Tonya stepped up and said, 'I'll go with them,' " said Dan Stevens, chief of the Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department.