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Cause of Texas medical helicopter crash still unknown

The patient on board died; the flight nurse and a paramedic were still in critical condition as of Monday afternoon

Times Record News

WICHITA FALLS, Texas — A preliminary posting by the Federal Aviation Administration lists Saturday’s crash of a Bell 206 Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter in Wichita Falls as caused by “unknown circumstance.”

The short posting on the FAA website listed the aircraft as “destroyed” and showed two cabin crew members and one flight crew member in serious condition from injuries suffered in the accident. The patient on board was killed.

The crash happened at 1:56 a.m. when a Duncan, Oklahoma-based helicopter went down and burst into flames just short of its destination, landing on the street and near a parking lot in the intersection of Grace and Ninth streets. The helicopter was carrying 26-year-old Buddy Rhodes, of Waurika, to United Regional Health Care System to be treated for life-threatening wounds sustained from a gunshot. While Texas authorities have not confirmed Rhodes was the patient who died in the crash, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Public Information Officer Jessica Brown told the Times Record News Saturday that OSBI investigators are working under the assumption that he is.

The Air Evac Lifeteam crew members in the crash included pilot Zechariah Smith, flight nurse Leslie Stewart and flight paramedic Erasmus J. Vandercloff IV. Smith was held at United Regional in serious, but stable condition, while Stewart and Vandercloff IV were flown to Parkland Health & Hospital System’s Burn Unit in Dallas in critical condition.

Lynn Wiesen, United Regional’s communications coordinator, said Smith had improved to fair condition as of early Monday. Parkland’s corporate communications representative Katherine Bradley said Stewart and Vandercloff IV were both still listed in critical condition as of Monday afternoon.

Air Evac Spokesperson Shelly Schneider said Smith and Stewart are both stationed out of Duncan with Air Evac Lifeteam 25. Vandercloff is stationed in Wichita Falls with Air Evac Lifeteam 34, but he flies with both the Wichita Falls and Duncan teams.

Air Evac Lifeteam 34 held a community candle light prayer vigil for the crew members, their families and anyone else affected by the crash at the Air Evac base at 1610 10th Street Monday evening.

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