Six killed as helicopters collide in Arizona

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The Independent US

Two medical helicopters collided near a northern Arizona hospital, killing six people and critically injuring a nurse, a federal official said. Two emergency workers on the ground were injured after the crash.

One of the helicopters was operated by Air Methods out of Englewood, Colorado, and the other was from Classic Helicopters of Woods Cross, Utah. Both aircraft were Bell 407 models, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration.

After last night's collision, the helicopters crashed in a wooded area east of Flagstaff Medical Center and started a 10-acre brush fire. An explosion on one of the aircraft after the crash injured two emergency workers who arrived with a ground ambulance company. They suffered minor burns, but their injuries were not life-threatening, authorities said.

"Crazy chaos, just lots of twisted metal wrapped up around people," Capt. Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the Flagstaff Fire Department, said near the crash site.

Three people on the Air Methods aircraft, including the patient, died. On the Classic helicopter, the pilot, paramedic and patient all died. A flight nurse on the Classic helicopter was in critical condition at Flagstaff Medical Center.

"It's just a very unfortunate tragedy," said Matt Stein, a program director and lead pilot with Classic Helicopters subsidiary Classic Lifeguard Aeromedical Services in Page, Arizona.

Stein said his company's crew was landing at Flagstaff Medical Center carrying a patient with a medical emergency from the Grand Canyon's South Rim.

"We've been in business 20 years, and these are the first fatalities we've experienced," Stein said. "They were all heroes. They were out doing a great service for their communities."

Stein said the pilot for Classic was experienced with more than 10,000 hours of flight time. He added that it's rare for two medical helicopters to attempt to land at a hospital at the same time.

Flagstaff Medical Center doesn't have flight controllers, he said, and it's up to the pilots to watch each other as they approach. "The key is you've got to communicate on the same frequency so other people know your whereabouts," Stein said.

Johnson said the helicopters spread debris across the scene. "They're not recognisable as helicopters," he said.

Coconino County sheriff's spokesman Gerry Blair said authorities were able to extinguish the brush fire after the crash.

The FAA is sending inspectors from Washington, DC, and Phoenix to investigate.

Last summer, two news helicopters collided while covering an auto chase near Phoenix, killing all four people on board.

Flagstaff is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of Phoenix.

Hospital officials declined requests to interview the hospital president and the two burn victims.