DEWITT, Ark. (AP) — A pilot and two medical personnel were killed when a medical helicopter that was flying to a hospital in eastern Arkansas crashed in a rural area Sunday night. No patients were on board at the time.
The cause of the crash is not yet known but federal agencies are investigating. Arkansas County Sheriff Todd Wright said a witness saw the helicopter spiral out of the sky about 7:55 p.m. Sunday, disturbing thousands of geese to the point that "they were louder than she had ever heard before."
The helicopter crashed on a levee adjacent to Hampton Reservoir near Lodge Corner in Arkansas County, 52 miles (84 kilometers) southeast of Little Rock. Wright said Monday that the helicopter's tail section was the only portion of the aircraft that did not burn.
Pafford Air One identified the victims as 46-year-old pilot Michael Bollen of Hot Springs; 61-year-old flight nurse James Lawson Spruiell of Sulligent, Alabama; and 26-year-old flight paramedic John Auld III, who went by the nickname Trey, of Shreveport, Louisiana. Pafford Air One says the helicopter had been flying from Pine Bluff to a hospital in Helena-West Helena.
"We are all devastated and profoundly saddened by the tragic loss of these valued EMS colleagues and friends. We will continue to try and comfort the crew's families as well as everyone in our employ," said Pafford Air One Director Dustin Ross.
Spruiell and Auld worked for Pafford Air One, which provides emergency transport in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma. Bollen was a pilot for Air Methods Corp.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation into the crash.
FAA records show that Bollen, the pilot, had a clean record with no history of accidents or enforcement actions. According to an agency database, Bollen had also been certified as a flight instructor. The database also shows no previous accidents or incidents involving the Bell 407 helicopter.
Wright said the area has had an "excessive amount" of geese this fall. An NTSB investigation into a 2009 helicopter crash off the Louisiana coast that killed eight people led to the agency blaming the aircraft's collision with a red-tailed hawk. The force of that collision dislodged a fuel-system control.
Lunsford said the agency wouldn't speculate on a cause in Sunday's crash and that investigators would look into whether the pilot had been warned about birds in a pre-flight briefing.
This story has been corrected to show that the helicopter was traveling to Helena-West Helena, not DeWitt.