HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A medical helicopter crashed on an isolated ranch in a national forest early Sunday, killing a patient and three crew members and strewing debris over a wide area.
The PHI Air Medical helicopter crew was taking a 58-year-old patient from a hospital in Huntsville to one in Houston for surgery, said Butch Davis, Walker County chief sheriff's deputy.
The flight left Huntsville Memorial Hospital at 2:45 a.m., and the hospital lost contact with it two minutes later, Davis said. Searchers didn't find the wreckage in the Sam Houston National Forest for almost six hours.
"We had to bring a 'dozer in to get us a right-of-way into the wreckage," he said. A path was cleared to the site, about 60 yards off a ranch road.
The owner of the private ranch wasn't there at the time of the crash, Davis said. The cause was being investigated, and the weather was clear at the time.
He identified the dead as patient David Disman, flight nurse Jana Bishop, pilot Wayne Kirby and flight paramedic Stephanie Waters. The bodies were taken for autopsies.
"This is a devastating loss," said Jonathan Collier, spokesman for PHI Air Medical.
The company 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.
Kirby had more than 30 years' experience as a pilot for PHI, including flights in Antarctica and Africa, the company said. Bishop had worked for the company since January 2005 and Walters since May 2006.