Tom Smart, Deseret News, KSL-TV Chopper 5
SALT LAKE CITY — The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard is sending a team to Utah to investigate a helicopter crash in the Uinta Mountains that injured three crew members.
Coast Guard Capt. John Hardin, commanding officer of Air Station Elizabeth City in North Carolina, the home base of the MH-60T Jayhawk that crashed Wednesday in Wasatch County, said a mishap analysis board from the air station was expected to arrive in Utah on Thursday.
"The (Elizabeth City) team will start the initial work on the analysis and hand off their information to the commandant's team when that is in place and is ready to assume the responsibilities of investigating this accident," Hardin said.
The Jayhawk that crashed was one of two returning to North Carolina from Washington state, where they had been deployed for a joint U.S.-Canadian security operation as part of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was last heard from just before 10 a.m. Wednesday.
About 20 minutes later, emergency dispatchers received their first call about the crash. One of the crew members involved in the crash used a cell phone to send text messages requesting help from the other Jayhawk in the area, which was not aware of the accident, said Wasatch County Sheriff Todd Bonner.
Hardin said the command center in Elizabeth City also received two brief cell phone calls from the downed crew, which alerted Coast Guard officials there that a crash had occurred.
The Coast Guard has identified the pilot as Cmdr. Patrick Shaw, 37, of Juneau, Alaska. Also on board were co-pilot Lt. Cmdr. Steven Cerveny, 40, of Lincoln, Neb.; Petty Officer 2nd Class Gina Panuzzi, 31, of Lacey, Wash.; Petty Officer 3rd Class Darren M. Hicks, 22, of Oroville, Wash.; and Petty Officer 3rd Class Edward Sychra, 26, of Blanchard, Ind.
Shaw and Panuzzi suffered internal injuries and were flown from the scene by the second Jayhawk to University Hospital, where Shaw was listed in serious condition Thursday.
Panuzzi, who underwent surgery Wednesday, was in critical condition. She was expected to have surgery again Thursday, Hardin said.
Cerveny suffered a broken leg and was flown by medical helicopter to University Hospital, where he remained in serious condition Thursday.
Hicks and Sychra escaped the crash without injury, Hardin said.
The crew of the second Jayhawk remained in Utah overnight. A relief crew from Elizabeth City is being flown in by transport plane to return the second helicopter to the air station, Hardin said. The transport plane will then ferry the second helicopter's original crew home.
Although the cause of the crash remains unknown, Bonner said weather may have been a factor.
"Visibility, due to snow and wind, was minimal," the sheriff said, adding that the pilot probably couldn't see the mountainside "until it was just too late."
Because there is an ongoing review of the crash, Hardin said he is not allowed to ask the crew anything about the incident aside from asking about their "personal and emotional needs."
"They're shaken," Hardin said, noting that those serving in the Coast Guard are typically the rescuers, not the rescued.
"We're all shaken by this," he said.
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