Firefighters recall responding to fatal Texas air medical crash

Two CareFlite crew members were killed when their helicopter apparently lost its rotor, crashed and caught fire

By Jon Nielsen and Scott Goldstein
The Dallas Morning News

MIDLOTHIAN, Texas — Two CareFlite crew members were killed Wednesday when their helicopter apparently lost its rotor, crashed and caught fire near Midlothian, authorities said.

The Bell 222 helicopter went down after taking off from its Grand Prairie hangar for a post-maintenance test flight, FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said. The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA were investigating the crash site late Wednesday to determine a cause.

Midlothian firefighters were in the area shortly after the 2:15 p.m. crash near U.S. Highway 67 and Wyatt Road in rural Ellis County. The wreckage ignited a large grass fire, officials said.

"We immediately started to extinguish the fire, but there were no survivors," said Midlothian Deputy Fire Chief Dale McCaskill. "The wreckage is pretty entangled."

The rotor was about 100 yards from the wreckage, and the tail section of the aircraft was in a cluster of small mesquite trees about 250 yards away. McCaskill said there were no mayday calls before the helicopter went down in a ball of fire.

"It was pretty spontaneous," McCaskill said.

The crash site is about a quarter-mile west of U.S. 67 beyond heavy brush and a rusty fence. It's an industrial area near two gutted, abandoned buildings that once belonged to a tire refurbishing company.

Firefighters had to cut through a gate to get to the site, officials said. Getting water to the site was difficult because there were no hydrants in the area, McCaskill said.

A CareFlite representative said the two crew members were a pilot and a mechanic. Firefighters pulled their bodies from the crash and took them to the Dallas County medical examiner's office. Their names were not released, pending notification of their relatives.

"We ask that you keep the families of those killed, and of all first responders in your prayers," CareFlite said in a prepared statement.

From his shop, Dennis Lauterbach Sr., owner of Quality Aircraft in Midlothian, heard the call dispatched to rescuers on his police scanner. He and his son, Dennis Lauterbach Jr., went up in their helicopter and circled the wreckage as smoke billowed into the sky. They surveyed the scene as the first Midlothian fire engines arrived.

From the air, the Lauterbachs saw a large debris field and a spreading grass fire. The two landed only briefly to tell authorities where they saw the detached tail end of the helicopter. They said they were unable to approach the wreckage because of the fire and smoke.

"Really, there was nothing for anybody to do," the father said.

CareFlite is the second-oldest medical air transportation service in Texas, according to its website.


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