Former flight paramedic recalls surviving fatal air ambulance crash

Derek Boehm said the Native Air crew was on its last flight of the day when the helicopter crashed into a remote part of the Superstition Mountains in 2015


PHOENIX — A former flight paramedic who survived a violent, fatal 2015 air ambulance crash recalled his experience.

Former flight paramedic Derek Boehm spoke with CBS5 about how he “survived the odds” when the Native Air helicopter he was on crashed into a remote area of the Superstition Mountains at more than 100 mph, killing everyone else on board.

"It was a Tuesday. It was like any other Tuesday," Boehm said, adding that the helicopter had just been serviced and was in great shape.

"The pilots loved how it was flying. Said it's like flying a Corvette," he said.

Boehm, along with pilot David Schneider and flight nurse Chad Frary, were on their last flight of the day and had just dropped off a patient. He said everything was routine, and they had even orbited over Frary’s house so he could wave to his daughter.

Then, things took a horrible turn.

"It wasn't until seconds before the impact we realized something was going wrong,” Boehm said. “I had enough time to look up from my laptop and go, 'Uhhhhhh,' and grab my harness. We started going into that dive and you could see the terrain coming. You know, just closer and closer and closer.”

The helicopter then slammed into the mountains.

"There's no accurate way to describe crashing into a mountain at over a 100 miles per hour. It's just astonishingly violent. The whole airframe bent and collapsed and I remember all of it, every second," Boehm said.

Boehm, who was badly injured and soaked in jet fuel, said he tried to save Schneider and Frary but realized he was helpless.

"I remember calling to him and saying, 'I'll be right there bud.’ That's when I tried to stand up to get to him, and that's when I could feel the bones moving in my legs. I had broken both femurs," he said.

The emergency location transmitter that is designed to send a distress signal to locate downed crews was not working.

"Apparently, it was damaged or destroyed because it never went off," Boehm said.

Boehm was in the wreckage for three hours before two Black Hawk helicopters flew over the area.

"I took out my phone and turned on the flashlight and just started kind of waving it at 'em. They changed course, banked to their right and started dropping altitude and then the pilot turned on his spotlight. At this point, I was just like, did that really work?" Boehm said.

A crew rappelled down and got Boehm into the helicopter.

"I remember cheering, getting real excited, a feeling you can't imagine, where at least they found us now. You think this device you use every day, people call 911 on it millions of times a day, you know, comes down to a flashlight,” he said.

Boehm was treated at the hospital for bilateral femur fractures, a fractured ankle and five fractured ribs, as well as second-degree chemical burns, hypothermia and a deep laceration on his leg.

The former paramedic went to nursing school after the crash and is now working alongside the same doctors who put him back together.

He said walking past the helipad into the hospital reminds him of his mission to help others.

"It's kind of a reminder to me of how lucky I am to be alive and work here and give back for everything they've done for me," he said.  

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