LAS CRUCES, NM - An air ambulance carrying a cancer patient to Phoenix crashed shortly after taking off from a southern New Mexico airport, killing all four people aboard, authorities said Thursday.
The twin-engine aircraft had just left the Las Cruces airport on Wednesday evening and was reported by witnesses to be flying low when it hit a mesquite tree in a field, flipped and burst into flames, according to New Mexico State Police Lt. James Frietze.
Tom Latson, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said it appeared the plane caught fire as it hit the ground.
Crew members killed were identified as 29-year-old pilot Freddy Martinez, 27-year-old flight paramedic Tauren Summers and 35-year-old flight nurse Monica Chavez, all from El Paso, Texas. The patient was identified as 59-year-old Fredrick Green.
Frietze said there weren't any weather issues in the area at the time. Several witnesses reported the plane was flying low before it crashed on federal land surrounded by mesquite trees about 10 miles outside Las Cruces.
Green's 55-year-old brother, Leslie, said the elder Green was living in the Phoenix area when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He came to Las Cruces after having surgery to stay with his brother while he underwent radiation treatment.
His condition deteriorated recently, and doctors decided he should return to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, where he was originally treated, Leslie Green said.
Green said they had a choice Wednesday to put his brother on a plane immediately or wait four hours.
"I kind of wish we had waited," he said. "But you can't change what happened."
Green said he learned about the crash when he called the Phoenix hospital to check on his brother's condition.
He said his brother was a mechanic with two adult sons. The two, he said, had been estranged for years before the older Green became ill.
State police said the plane belonged to Amigos Aviation and was contracted by Elite Medical Transport.
Elite Medical President Rob Campion said the company was "deeply grieved by the loss of the patient and our friends and co-workers." The company was cooperating with investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, he said.
Amigos did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
Latson said it would take about a week to issue a preliminary report about the crash.