3 die in Calif. medevac helicopter crash

Aircraft goes down in fog near the summit of Cajon Pass en route to its base after dropping a patient off at a hospital.
By Duke Helfand and Evelyn Larrubia
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved

LOS ANGELES — A medevac helicopter carrying three crew members crashed Sunday night in a mountainous area near the summit of Cajon Pass, killing all aboard, authorities said.

The helicopter from Mercy Air Service Inc. was returning to its base at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville from Loma Linda University Medical Center when it went down in fog about 6:02 p.m. at about 4,000 feet elevation. Before the crash, the crew had airlifted a patient from the community of Phelan, near the pass' summit, to the Loma Linda facility.

Authorities did not release the names of the crew members.

"We received several reports, mostly from northbound traffic onthe I-15 freeway, that stated they saw something fall from the sky and then saw an explosion," said Capt. Bret Raney of the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

He said investigators could not confirm whether the helicopter struck power lines before it crashed about 10 miles south of Victorville in a remote area not far from Silverwood Lake.

A top executive with Mercy Air's parent company, Air Methods Corp.of Englewood, Colo., confirmed that the helicopter belonged to his organization.

"One of Mercy's airships was involved in an accident," said AaronTodd, Air Method's chief executive officer. He would not release any further details.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were dispatched to the scene Sunday night.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the Bell 412 helicopter crashed near the top of Cajon Pass during its repositioning flight from Loma Linda to Victorville.

"The helicopter crashed [and] caught fire," he said. "All three people aboard were killed."

The FAA initially was concerned that the helicopter might have struck power lines, but Gregor said investigators had not found evidence of that by late Sunday.

Gregor added that the helicopter was being operated under visual flight rules and not being handled by air traffic control, a practicehe called "perfectly normal."

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