3 killed in NM Medevac crash
Accident occurred during training exercise
Duty Death: John Sutter, Anthony Archuleta - [McGregor Range, New Mexico]
Editor's note: Investigators are continuing to probe the cause of the helicopter crash that killed three during a training exercise last week. National Transportation Safety Board investigators said it will be at least one more week before they release any new details about the accident.
By Darren Meritz
The Silver City Sun-News
MCGREGOR RANGE, N.M. — The three-member crew of a Southwest Med Evac helicopter died Friday night when they crashed during a training flight at McGregor Range.
The helicopter's pilot, William Montgomery of Avondale, Ariz., and two paramedics, John Sutter of Las Cruces and Anthony Archuleta of El Paso, were killed when the helicopter crashed as it prepared to land, according to officials from Southwest Med Evac, a division of Omniflight Helicopters, Inc.
The helicopter was not transporting patients. Details of the crash were sketchy Saturday.
"The cause of the accident is unknown at this time," Anthony DiNota, president and chief operating officer of Omniflight, said in a statement. "There are many questions that need to be answered."
The crew was participating in a training exercise involving a simulated medical evacuation. Friday was the second day of the two-day exercise, officials from Omniflight Helicopters said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the pilot and the paramedics were in a Eurocopter AS 350, which had flown from El Paso International Airport to McGregor.
The training exercise had gone as planned when Montgomery radioed to company operators to say they intended to land the aircraft and anticipated no problems, Lunsford said.
Investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in El Paso on Saturday to determine what happened after that radio dispatch that could have led to the crash. Officials from Omniflight Helicopters, Inc. also were at the crash site on Saturday.
"We're putting a team together to assess the wreckage," Lunsford said.
Southwest Med Evac is contracted with Fort Bliss for emergency medical services.
Weather was clear just before 8 p.m. on Friday and the aircraft was equipped with night vision goggles, satellite navigation, a radar altimeter and GPS, Omniflight officials said.
Montgomery, the aircraft's pilot, had been working for Omniflight for about six weeks. His sole responsibility was to fly paramedics on training exercises such as the one at Fort Bliss during the weekend, his wife, Linda Montgomery, said in a telephone interview.
Montgomery, 63, was an Army pilot during the Vietnam War and had flown several kinds of aircraft throughout his career, his wife said. He had four daughters.
"He had a love of flying," Linda Montgomery said. "He was employed with Omniflight to fly the helicopter to pick up any military personnel that were injured."
Family members said Archuleta became paramedic after working as a firefighter. Archuleta, 54, moved to El Paso from Colorado about a year ago, said Lori Franklin, Archuleta's sister. Archuleta had three sons and was married to Kim Archuleta.
"They were just doing a training exercise and they invited him and another paramedic to go on the flight," Franklin said. "He was excited because he doesn't get to go on many flights."
Sutter's family could not be reached for comment.
Before Friday's fatal crash, four people were killed in airplane crash in Sept. 2008, in the mountains near Ojinaga, Chihuahua.
Killed were the International Boundary and Water Commission's top officials, U.S. Commissioner Carlos Marin of El Paso and Mexican Commissioner Arturo Herrera Solis; Rio Grande Council of Governments Executive Director Jake Brisbin Jr.; and Volare Air Charter co-founder and pilot Matt Juneau, of El Paso.
In October 2008, a propeller airplane went down just northwest of the Santa Teresa airport, killing the two people on board.
In September 2009, three people were killed when a Eurocopter aircraft operated by Omniflight crashed near Georgetown, S.C. According to a preliminary NTSB report, the pilot flew into bad weather.
Omniflight aircraft were involved in four crashes in 2009, including one in which an aircraft ran out of gas and crashed and another when a pilot lost control during night vision goggle training.
In 2007, a Beech E90 aircraft registered to Omniflight crashed in the forest near Ruidoso. In that flight, five people were killed, including a 15-month-old female child receiving treatment for seizures and her mother.
Omniflight also was the operator of an Aug. 27, 1990, flight that killed four people. Among them was musician Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Safety of flights for helicopter emergency medical units have become a priority for the NTSB. The number of fatalities during emergency operations has increased to 29 in 2008 from seven in 2007, according to NTSB statistics.
The NTSB in February 2009 had a public hearing with aviation stakeholders. They determined that developing flight risk evaluation programs, requiring formalized dispatch procedures and installing Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems could reduce accidents.
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