SANTA FE, N.M. – Officials said both the pilot of a state police helicopter and the student hiker he was rescuing were killed when the aircraft crashed on a snowy mountain near Santa Fe.
The officials said that Sgt. Andy Tingwall perished after retrieving lost hiker Megumi Yamamoto when the chopper struck the side of a mountain Tuesday night in rough weather.
Yamamoto, a University of New Mexico physics graduate student from Tokyo, was also confirmed dead earlier Thursday after rescuers reached the bodies.
The only other person aboard, state police officer Wesley Cox, sustained serious leg injuries but managed to reach safety Wednesday.
Rescue efforts had been hampered by snow, low clouds and wind Wednesday. But the weather broke Thursday, allowing Black Hawk helicopters to airlift searchers as close as they could to the wreckage to look for Yamamoto and Tingwall.
Just before smashing into the mountain Tuesday night, the sleek police copter, designed for just such high-altitude rescue missions, picked up Yamamoto after she become stranded while hiking.
Cox's right leg was crushed, his back injured. Soon, hypothermia set in. He hunkered down for the night inside the downed chopper with his pilot within earshot. Through the night, Tingwall and Cox alternately called out to each other.
When daybreak came Wednesday, Cox, badly injured and uncertain where Tingwall was, decided he needed to hike out for help, broken bones and all. He walked less than a mile before finding help and was rushed to a hospital with severe hypothermia.
Authorities spent the rest of Wednesday searching the mountains near the crash for signs of the pilot and Yamamoto, who had been camping with a boyfriend, also a student at the university.
Late Wednesday, two crews located the helicopter's fuselage and other debris that had been scattered down the mountainside. The chief said the debris field stretched about 800 feet in steep terrain.
The crash occurred northeast of Baldy peak in the Santa Fe Mountains, at about 12,000 feet, officials said. A crew of 18 people hiked through the night in an effort to reach the lower end of the debris field.
Segotta said information about the crash and details of the frightening night on the mountain came from Cox, 29, who remained hospitalized with a back injury, possibly a fracture, and a "seriously crushed" right leg, according to the chief. He also said Cox has some internal bleeding.
Tingwall, of Santa Fe, had radioed in his last radio transmission Tuesday night that he had hit the mountain.
Segotta said three campers near Lake Stewart saw the helicopter take off and fly around the north side of the mountain, then heard its rotors rev to a high pitch. They then saw a flash of light and heard the crash, he said.
The helicopter may have crashed into the mountainside after the tail rotor hit something and subsequently failed to gain enough altitude to negotiate a safe landing, he said.