Four people have been killed Thursday night in an accident when a medical helicopter crashed amid heavy rain and dense fog in Central California.
American Ambulance General Manager Todd Valeri said the SkyLife air ambulance had a patient aboard along with a paramedic and a nurse apart from the pilot. All the four is said to have died in the crash.
According to Central California EMS Director Dan Lynch, the crew were employee of medical transport service SkyLife, which is jointly owned by Rogers Helicopters and American Ambulance.
The news of accident and death came amid annual Christmas party celebration of the company for about its 600 staff.
Valeri said, “People are absolutely devastated… We’re just consoling one another, telling stories, crying.”
Fire officials of Kern County said the medical helicopter was heading from Porterville Municipal Airport for San Joaquin Community Hospital in Bakersfield. It crashed halfway to destination on remote field mostly orchards near Sherwood Avenue and Highway 65, north of Bakersfield, on a private property outside the McFarland town.
Names of the victims have not been disclosed until their family members are informed. Also, the officials didn’t reveal why the patient was airlifted to hospital.
Valeri added the area was covered with dense fog and heavy rain poured continuously. However, it is not yet clear what caused the crash though weather conditions are always a factor.
Wind advisory is reported to have been issued in the area at the time by National Weather Service.
Due to extremely bad weather the rescue team too reached late to the crash site, about two hours after the helicopter went missing. Search for it started at 7:37 p.m. following no contact made with the aircraft for about 30 minutes after the takeoff. The communications center made contact to the control towers in Porterville and Bakersfield discovering the aircraft didn’t communicate with them either.
Rescue team from the fire department of Kern County and Sheriff’s office as well were deployed to the location that was last received by the GPS signal.
Kern County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Bill Smallwood officials said the searchers found debris of the helicopter with no survivors. The rescue team faced difficulties too due to bad weather in the efforts of their searches.
According to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor, the aircraft has been identified as a Bell407 and its tail number was N408FC.
Valeri added the aircraft had very experienced full-time crew members and this is the first time the company has an accident of such magnitude since 1991 when it was founded.
Investigation of the crash will be done by Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
The last known position of the helicopter was in Kern County near Sherwood Avenue and Highway 65, reports FAA.
American Ambulance tweeted,
We want to thank everyone for the sympathy for our lost helicopter crew. family of employees will be mourning the tragedy for a long time
— American Ambulance (@AmericanAmb) December 11, 2015
The American Ambulance is headquartered in Fresno County and confirmed the crashed medical helicopter is their own.