FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. Two medical helicopters collided Sunday about a half-mile from a northern Arizona hospital, killing six people and critically injuring a nurse, a federal official said. Two emergency workers on the ground were injured after the crash. One helicopter was operated by a Utah firm.
Three of the fatalities were aboard a Bell 407 helicopter operated by Air Methods out of Englewood, Colo. At least one of those killed was the patient.
Three others were killed aboard another Bell 407 helicopter operated by Classic Helicopters of Woods Cross, Utah. A fourth person on that helicopter was critically injured.
Classic Helicopters spokesman Matt Stein said his company's crew was landing at the hospital carrying a patient with a medical emergency from the Grand Canyon's South Rim. Stein said the helicopter's pilot, paramedic and patient all died in the crash. A flight nurse was in critical condition at Flagstaff Medical Center.
"We've been in business 20 years, and these are the first fatalities we've experienced," Stein said. "They were all heroes. They were out doing a great service for their communities."
Stein didn't give the names of the crash victims, except to say that the pilot for Classic was experienced with over 10,000 hours of flight time. He added that it's rare for two medical helicopters to attempt to land at a hospital at the same time.
Flagstaff Medical Center doesn't have flight controllers, he said, and it's up to the pilots to watch each other as they approach.
"It's just a very unfortunate tragedy," Stein said.
Air Methods officials didn't immediately return calls from the AP on Sunday.
Capt. Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the Flagstaff Fire Department, said the helicopters crashed in a wooded area about a half-mile from Flagstaff Medical Center. The helicopters spread debris across the scene.
"They're not recognizable as helicopters," he said.
Johnson said two emergency workers with a ground ambulance company suffered minor burns in an explosion on one of the aircraft after the crash. The injuries were not life-threatening, he said.
The FAA is sending inspectors to investigate.
The crash started a 10-acre brush fire that authorities were able to extinguish, said Coconino County sheriff's spokesman Gerry Blair.