An AS350 B3 helicopter flown by Native Air medical transport went down Tuesday evening at about 1800 hours in the Superstition Mountains. Native Air 5 was returning to Globe from Mesa, Arizona with only the three man crew on board. Pilot David Schneider and Flight Nurse Chad Frary were killed but Flight Paramedic Derek Boehm survived and was eventually transported to a trauma center in Phoenix.
My condolences to Native Air and the families of the two crew members that died. Best wishes and a speedy recovery to their medic.
I have been involved with enough of these kinds of incidents to know there are always extenuating circumstances and that you shouldn’t second guess the people that were there based on what you see in the news reports. I also know that we had a very large winter storm roll through central Arizona.
According to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office Native Air 5 went down about 1800, Native Air 20 located the wreckage at 2030 after the survivor signaled them with a flashlight, an Arizona DPS Air Rescue helicopter found the crash site at 2100, the Flight Nurse survived the crash but died before help arrived, and a military helicopter did the actual evacuation at 2215 .
I am sure that these first responders tried their best and did everything they could to get in there. It must have been incredibly frustrating for them and I can only imagine what it was like for the survivor.
Flying is a dangerous business, even more so when you are pushing the limits and on the ragged edge trying to get to somebody that desperately needs your help. Low and slow, limited visibility, rapidly changing weather conditions, rugged terrain. Been there, done that. My thanks, respect, and admiration goes out to those that were out there Tuesday night.
Here is the latest from Pinal County Sheriff’s Office.
UPDATE – I do have some questions that the media has not asked and the Pinal County Sheriff has not answered.
-Why did it take an hour and a half for Native Air to ask the Department of Public Safety for help?
-Does Native Air do flight following? Why did Native 20 go out to look for Native 5?
-What happened to the two people Native 20 dropped off near the crash site?
-Why couldn’t DPS evacuate the survivor?
-Which military unit was called in and why?
-The city of Phoenix and Pima County both have hoist equipped helicopters, were they considered?
UPDATE 2 – Here is more information on the incident from the DPS Air Rescue pilot and paramedic that were on scene. We get more detail but it raises more questions that the media isn’t asking.
-This is the first I have heard of AirEvac being involved (is someone confusing them with Native Air 20 or was that an incorrect report?)
-We still don’t know what military unit was involved or who called them. Trooper Rose mentions PJs which of course is USAF Pararescue so I assume they came out of Davis-Monthan but which specific unit? The 305th?
–We now know from the DPS pilot that the sky was clear but there was no moonlight so they were on NVGs (common for them). This is interesting to me because another medical helicopter (Native Air 20 or an AirEvac bird) was able to drop off two people with medical gear but the air ambulance crews I am familiar with don’t have or use night vision goggles. Furthermore, those air ambulance crews are medical people not SAR Techs so I doubt they did any kind of one skid or no skid egress with all their gear which tells me they landed. If so where and how far away? If it was close enough to walk in then why not use that bird and spot to evacuate the survivor?
-Still, how does a medical helicopter go over due for 2 and a half hours before somebody calls DPS?
-Curious from what base did the DPS helo launch (I assume Phoenix or Tucson but this poorly written article doesn’t tell us)?
-What “private aircraft” was able to see wreakage on the ground in the dark and report a set of usable coordinates (was it Native Air 20 or AirEvac)?
With all due respect to DPS Air Rescue (I think the world of those guys), I do take exception to something Trooper Rose said. She said that if it were not for the PJs they would not have been able to get the survivor out that night. Well, I do not know the current capabilities of the Pinal SAR groups because it has been years since I worked with them but I guaran-damn-tee you the MCSO Mountain Rescue Team could have and would have gotten him out that night. They could have packaged and carried him to where the medical crew landed or out to the Rogers Trough Trailhead and Forest Road 172/172A which is close. That is precisely the kind of difficult terrain, night time, cold weather mission a certified Mountain Rescue team is designed and trained for.
And by the way, I love the Bell 407, but isn’t it about time that we give DPS the funding they need to add a true rescue hoist equipped helicopter?