PCSO: Chopper survivor tried to help victim

Posted at 4:55 AM, Dec 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-17 06:55:55-05

A medical helicopter crashed in rugged terrain east of Phoenix, killing two crew members and seriously injuring a paramedic who tried unsuccessfully to save the life of another victim, a sheriff said Wednesday.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said the helicopter crashed Tuesday evening on a mountainside about 12 miles north of Superior, a mining community outside Phoenix. An Air Force helicopter rescued the survivor, who had used a flashlight to signal at a search aircraft, about 10:15 p.m., roughly four hours after the craft went down on a snowy, tree-covered slope. 

The fuselage was largely intact, but other parts of the chopper were strewn about it.

One of the victims initially had signs of life and the paramedic tried to provide life-saving care, Babeu said.

"It was not successful -- a tragic situation," he said. 

The Sheriff's Office and Air Methods, which owns the company operating the aircraft, identified those killed as pilot David Schneider, 51, of Gilbert, and flight nurse Chad Frary, 38, of Mesa. The surviving paramedic is Derek Boehm, 38, of Gilbert. 

No patients were on board, said Air Methods spokeswoman Christina D. Brodsly. 

Boehm is hospitalized in fair condition, the sheriff's office said.

Another survivor of a medical helicopter crash helped form a group to help survivors like Boehm.

Jonathan Godfrey was the sole survivor when a helicopter crashed into the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., in 2005, according to multiple reports.

"I was given a gift of being able to have some extra years on this earth that I didn't necessarily earn,” Godfrey said in a Skype interview Wednesday night.

Godfrey said the group, Survivors Network, will reach out to Boehm at some point over the next year.

“[Boehm’s] whole life is changed forever,” Godfrey said.

“Those of us who have been through a significant event like that realize eventually that we have to build something that's completely new."

Babeu said the helicopter was returning to Globe from a Mesa airport.

An aerial search began after the helicopter was reported missing around 6 p.m., Babeu said. The sheriff said he did not know about radio transmission from the aircraft before it went down or any report from the public about a crash in the Tonto National Forest.

A Native Air helicopter first spotted the wreckage at about 8:30 p.m. and an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter located it about a half-hour later, but neither was able to land because of rugged terrain, Babeu said.

"From what I understand it's in a precarious situation," he said of the crashed helicopter.

The DPS helicopter crew saw the survivor signaling with a flashlight, Babeu said.

National Weather Service meteorologist James Sawtelle in Phoenix said temperatures on ridges in the area were in the low 30s when the helicopter crashed and fell to the high 20s by the time the survivor was rescued.

The crash scene was sealed off overnight to preserve evidence. Investigators, including at least one from the National Transportation Board Safety, arrived at the scene Wednesday morning.