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Thread: Florida Helicopter Ambulance Crashes Into Bay; Kills Paramedic

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    Florida Helicopter Ambulance Crashes Into Bay; Kills Paramedic

    Florida Helicopter Ambulance Crashes Into Bay; Kills Paramedic

    Updated: 10-21-2004 04:01:06 PM

    INEZ FORD
    Firehouse.com News

    Robert Heighton, a veteran paramedic with the South Walton Fire District, was killed Wednesday, October 20 when the helicopter ambulance he was working on crashed into Choctawhatchee Bay. Helicopter Pilot Tom Palcic and Flight Nurse Jack Chase were also killed in the crash.

    According to South Walton Fire District Deputy Chief Michael Kane,

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    Florida Paramedic, Two Others Killed In Helicopter Crash

    Updated: 10-21-2004 12:08:30 PM

    WEAR-TV News Staff
    Courtesy of WEAR-TV

    Emergency workers hoping to make a rescue instead found debris from Airheart One floating in Choctawhatchee Bay near the Highway 331 bridge.

    A pilot, nurse, and paramedic had headed out on the air ambulance around 12:40 Wednesday morning.

    Dr. Gary Pablo, Sacred Heart Health Services Medical Director: "The crew responded to a call from Healthmark Regional Medical Center in Defuniak Springs, requesting a transfer of a critically ill cardiac patient to a hospital in Pensacola."

    But minutes later, they radioed the Walton County Emergency Operations Center that they were coming back due to bad weather.

    That was the last anyone heard from them.

    But apparently no one realized the crew and the chopper were missing until shift change at daybreak, hours later.

    Randy Layman, Director of Airheart: "From what we're gathering it was actually part of an Airheart flight crew that was coming in on duty that morning, notified dispatch, asking the location of the aircraft, at which time the investigation started."

    Typically Airheart One would radio in when it landed, and contact the dispatch center every ten minutes.

    Dr. Pablo: "This is clearly one of the questions we have and the F-A-A is going to have to look into this with us and when we find out more information about this we'll certainly share that with you."

    In the meantime, the shock of the accident is sinking in.

    Roger Hall, Sacred Heart Hospital of the Emerald Coast: "This is a tragedy to all of us; from the hospital, to the EMS, to the firefighters, to the commnity, to the lives that these people have saved, are all grieving enormously right now."

    The pilot had 26 years experience, including 11,000 hours in that type of aircraft.

    As of 5 p.m. Wednesday night, two bodies had been recovered.

    Searchers were still looking for the third person.

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=46&id=36001

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    Three Victims Identified In Florida Panhandle Helicopter Ambulance Crash

    Updated: 10-21-2004 04:38:27 PM

    Associated Press

    SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Divers recovered the body of a third and final helicopter ambulance crew member Thursday from Choctawhatchee Bay where the aircraft crashed.

    Sheriff's divers from neighboring Okaloosa County located the body of Robert Heighton, a Gulf Breeze paramedic employed by the South Walton Fire District, shortly before noon near this Walton County community.

    Also kill in the crash early Wednesday were Tom Palcic, 63, the AIRHeart helicopter's pilot from Fort Walton Beach, and flight nurse Jack Chase, 47, of Santa Rosa Beach, Sacred Heart Health Systems officials said. Their bodies were found Wednesday. No patients were aboard.

    Palcic had flown helicopters for 27 years. He worked for Metro Aviation Inc. of Shreveport, La., which maintains and flies two helicopters for Sacred Heart, one based at Santa Rosa Beach and the other at Marianna. Chase worked for Sacred Heart, which has hospitals in Pensacola and Santa Rosa Beach.

    No one knew the helicopter had gone down until about five hours after crew members radioed emergency dispatchers to report that bad weather had forced them to turn back minutes after taking off from the AIRHeart hangar in Santa Rosa Beach. Thunderstorms were reported Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle.

    The helicopter had been headed for DeFuniak Springs, about 25 miles north of here, to fly a critically ill heart patient to a Pensacola hospital. A ground ambulance made the transfer after the helicopter aborted its flight.

    Dispatchers violated procedure by failing to make sure the Eurocopter BO-105 had returned safely, said Ed Baltzley, director of the Walton County Emergency Operations Center.

    Crews are supposed to check with dispatch when they land. If they fail to so after 20 minutes, dispatchers are supposed to contact them, he said.

    Even if the helicopter had been reported missing immediately, the crew probably would have died because of the severity of their injuries, said Walton sheriff's Capt. Stan Sunday.

    No one noticed the helicopter missing until a relief crew arrived about 6 a.m. CDT and found the hangar empty.

    The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. The wreckage was removed from the bay Thursday and taken to a warehouse in Destin, said Walton sheriff's spokesman Dennis Wise.

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=17&id=35973

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    Sacred Heart helicopter crashes in bay

    Santa Rosa Beach

    Sacred Heart Health System's air ambulance, AirHeart, crashed into Choctawhatchee Bay in Walton County in the early morning hours Oct. 20.

    The medical helicopter, with three crew members on board, took off from its hangar in south Walton County at 12:41 a.m. to respond to a call to transport a critically ill cardiac patient from Healthmark Regional Medical Center in DeFuniak Springs to a hospital in Pensacola. Four minutes later, the crew radioed the Walton County Emergency Operations Center that they were aborting the flight due to bad weather conditions and returning to base. In that transmission, the crew estimated the time of their return at 10 minutes. There was no distress call, and the crew was not heard from again. There were no patients on board at the time of the crash.

    The three crew members were pilot Tom Palcic, 63, a resident of Fort Walton Beach; flight nurse Jack Chase, 47, a resident of Seagrove in Walton County; and firefighter/paramedic Robert Heighton, of Gulf Breeze. The bodies of Palcic and Chase were recovered from the wreckage of the helicopter later in the day. Divers continued to search for Heighton's remains as of Oct. 21.

    Sacred Heart Health System president and CEO Patrick Madden said in a written statement, "We have lost three brave people, true heroes who dedicated themselves to saving the lives of others. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and associates of these men."

    AirHeart's ambulance serves northwest Florida with two helicopters, one based in south Walton County and one in Marianna. AirHeart is a partnership between Sacred Heart Health System; Metro Aviation of Shreveport, La., which maintains the helicopters and employs the pilots; and South Walton Fire District, which provides paramedics for AirHeart flights. Sacred Heart provides the management staff and flight nurses for AirHeart missions.

    Palcic, an employee of Metro Aviation, had 27 years of experience as a helicopter pilot. Chase, a registered nurse employed by Sacred Heart, joined the AirHeart team in 2002. AirHeart service from the south Walton base began in 2001. The second helicopter was added in 2003 and operates out of Marianna.

    The wreckage of the helicopter was discovered shortly after daybreak in about nine feet of water near the U.S. 331 bridge over the bay. The Eurocopter BO-105 was reported to be mostly intact. According to some reports, the search for the missing copter was not initiated until shift change, when the new crew reported that the copter was missing. The Walton County Emergency Operations Center is responsible for radio communications with the medical helicopter.

    The heart patient was transferred to an unnamed hospital in Pensacola by ambulance. No further details are available on the patient's condition.

    Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash.

    Peggy DeKeyser and Michael Burke contributed to this story.

    http://thefloridacatholic.org/articl...optercrash.htm


    Robert Heighton on the left

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    Heighton, Robert D.

    Age: 45
    Cause of Death: Vehicle Collision
    Rank: Firefighter/Paramedic
    Nature of Death: Trauma
    Classification: Career
    Emergency Duty: Yes

    Incident Date: 10/20/2004
    Duty Type: Responding
    Incident Time: 00:30
    Activity Type: Riding Vehicle/Apparatus
    Death Date: 10/20/2004
    Fixed Prop. Use: Outdoor Property

    Fire Dept. Info:
    South Walton Fire District
    911 CR 393 North
    PO Box 1226
    Santa Rosa Beach , Florida 32459-1226
    Chief: Les Hallman

    Final Summary:
    Firefighter Heighton was a member of the 3-person medical helicopter crew. The South Walton Fire District staffed a paramedic spot on the helicopter through a joint airmedical service agreement with the Sacred Heart Health System. Firefighter Heighton was on-duty when his helicopter was dispatched for an interfacility transfer of a patient. After a weather check by the pilot, the helicopter lifted off at 0041hrs. At 0043hrs, the pilot called his dispatcher and reported that they were retuning to base due to weather. The dispatcher did not receive any further contact from the helicopter and, assuming the aircraft had arrived back safely, cleared the call from the dispatch computer. At 0610hrs, the pilot for the oncoming crew noticed that the helicopter was not present. The pilot spoke to the dispatch center, and a search for the helicopter was initiated. The wreckage of the helicopter was located at about 0820hrs. The wreckage was in about 10 feet of water. The body of Firefighter Heighton was the last to be found. It was located on October 21, 2004 at 1120hrs. The cause of death was listed as multiple-trauma. For additional information about this crash, consult the National Transportation Safety Board web site at http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp - NTSB identification MIA05FA008.

    Memorial Fund Info:
    C/o South Walton Fire District, 911 CR 393 North, PO Box 1226, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459-1226


    http://www.usfa.fema.gov/application...eath_year=2004

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