A pilot made a forced landing of a medical helicopter Tuesday without loss of life in a suburban Philadelphia residential area. And in some way avoided a network of power lines and buildings as the craft hovered, hit the street and slide in the bushes outside a church, authorities and witnesses said.
It was a “miracle” that none of the four people on board, including a child patient, suffered fatal injuries, said Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy M. Bernhardt.
Rescuers headed to the remains of Drexel Hill United Methodist Church in Upper Darby around 1 p.m. and helped remove the pilot, two crew members and the infant from the helicopterBernhardt said at a press conference.
The boy was taken to a hospital while authorities worked to notify the family, Bernhardt said.
The helicopter had taken off from out of state. It is believed that he had mechanical problems during the flightsaid a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, citing reports from county officials.
At the crash site, a stop sign on the corner was snapped in two and had apparently been hit by the helicopter when it fell. The nave was on its side in two parts, just outside the church.
“It’s a miracle, it’s an absolute miracle, this is what they see behind me,” Bernhardt said, adding that he is eager to shake hands with the pilot by lowering the helicopter the way they did.
A witness, Joshua James, said he was driving nearby with his wife and young son when he saw the rear of the helicopter rock from side to side as it glided to a stop. He put his car in reverse.
“It doesn’t make sense to me that it didn’t hit any of the cables or anything, that it didn’t hit us,” James said.
Jerrell Saunders, 28, said he had been walking from his maintenance job at a nearby apartment building when he saw the helicopter “Just floating, very low, extremely low, as if I could land in the building in which I work.”
He got in his car to go to the hardware store and the helicopter was going in the same direction. He said he saw it hit the ground in the middle of the road and slide across the ground until it crashed.
“I guess the pilot tried to land in a safe area, because he bounced off the ground and fell and slid,” Saunders said.
The helicopter turned on its side and, as smoke was coming out, he saw people jumping out of the helicopter.
“I am telling my grandchildren about this,” he said.
A fire official said the helicopter had about an hour of fuel left at the time of the accident., and crews took steps to prevent the fuel from leaking and contaminating the water.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the aircraft was a Eurocopter EC135 medical helicopter and that the agency was investigating, along with the National Transportation Safety Board.
A spokesman for Air Methods, the aerial medical emergency transportation service that owns the helicopter, said it was part of the Hagerstown, Maryland-based LifeNet program. Federal agencies were investigating.
“Our team will fully cooperate in your efforts to assess the cause of this unfortunate accident.”said Doug Flanders, a spokesman for Air Methods.
(With information from AP)
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