A medical helicopter with three men on board has crashed near the town of DeWitt, Arkansas, killing all three. Officials have not identified a cause for the medical helicopter crash, or released many details, but an investigation is underway with the help of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Witness Reported Helicopter Crash Near DeWitt
The medical helicopter-a Bell 407-was likely traveling from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to Helena Regional Medical Center when the crash occurred at approximately 7:55 p.m. on November 19, 2017. A female resident in the area saw the helicopter descend and reported the incident.
Emergency personnel responded to the scene to find that the medical helicopter had crashed across from Hampton Reservoir off of Highway 276, near the town of DeWitt and approximately 60 miles from the city of Little Rock. Arkansas County Sheriff Todd Wright said the rural crash site presented challenges regarding access.
Bell 407 Helicopter Almost Completely Burnt Before Emergency Crews Arrived
Access to the site was further impeded by a fire that officials believe started during the crash. The helicopter, with the exception of its tail, was fully engulfed in flames by the time emergency crews reached it, and it was clear that all those on board died.
Wright spoke with press near the crash site and said that a local pilot told him that medical helicopters, which had not crashed in the area previously, often carry an “excessive amount of fuel.” Wright speculated that the extra fuel could have been a factor in any difficulty putting out the blaze.
Pilot, Flight Nurse and Flight Paramedic Were on Board at Time of Crash
Officials did not immediately identify the three crash victims as they waited to notify their families, but Pafford Air One, which serves communities in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi with emergency transport, eventually identified the three men on board.
The Bell 407 was piloted by 46-year-old Michael Bollen, a Hot Springs resident. Sixty-one-year-old James Lawson Spruiell and 26-year-old John “Trey” Auld III-of Sulligent, Alabama, and Shreveport, Louisiana, respectively-were on board serving as the flight nurse and flight paramedic. There were no patients on the helicopter.
Helicopter Pilot Employed by Air Methods Corp
Auld and Spruiell worked for Pafford Air One, but the pilot, Bollen, was an employee of Air Methods Corp. The Bell 407, though in use for Pafford Air One, was also owned, operated and maintained by Air Methods Corp, which is based out of Englewood, Colorado, where the aircraft was registered.
Bollen had no prior accidents, according to FAA records, and held certification as a flight instructor. The Bell 407 also had a clean record.
Victim’s Family Speaks Publicly on Their Loss Following the Deadly Helicopter Accident
Kim Auld, Trey’s mother, sat down with local media to talk about her son and how she was processing her grief.
“We’re going to work hard to continue the legacy of love, laughter and living,” Auld told KSLA. Her son served as a volunteer firefighter before becoming a flight paramedic, and had a long history of helping the community.
“Almost ten years of saving lives,” Auld said. “He ran food pantry when he was 15 years old with his pastor, and this is the kid who wouldn’t even clean out his own pumpkin at Halloween. And that has parlayed into an incredible career.”
She also said that Trey would have rejected the hero title, despite being just that for her family.
“The last thing he ever wanted to be was a hero because the heroes were the ones who came before him and taught him, the guys and women that are devastated in the area with us,” Auld said. “But he is our hero.”
Auld said her family plans to set up a foundation to honor Trey and his mission in life.
Investigation into Pafford Air One Helicopter Crash Underway
The NTSB and FAA have begun their investigations into the Bell 407 crash, but so far have not given any potential causes. Such helicopter crash investigations can be lengthy, and will look at not only the pilot and area conditions, but the mechanics of the aircraft itself to see if faulty equipment may have contributed to the helicopter crash.
The investigation will be led primarily by the NTSB, which arrived in the DeWitt area on Monday afternoon. The FAA has already released a preliminary report that gives only a few details, including that the helicopter crashed with three people on board “under unknown circumstances” about 10 miles from DeWitt.
It’s possible a preliminary report from the NTSB could be available within the next two weeks.
Arkansas Sheriff Suspects Geese Played a Role in Chopper Crash
FAA officials have not listed any possible causes for the crash, but Sheriff Todd Wright floated his theory to media following the crash. The potential cause: Geese.
“That’s what I figure,” Wright said. “Every field is full of them, you couldn’t put another one in it.”
Wright also spoke of the area resident who witnessed the crash, though details she gave did not necessarily speak to the geese being the cause.
“She said [the helicopter] just started spinning, started spiraling down,” Wright said. “She said the geese started getting loud. I’m sure the crash could have spooked them and made a big racket going down.”
His theory was not corroborated by federal investigations, however.
“The FAA guy said he doesn’t think geese would down a copter,” Wright said. “But he has no idea how many are in a flock.”
Pafford Air One Posts Statement on Helicopter Crash
Pafford Air One released an initial statement on the crash on their Facebook page, saying:
Pafford is devastated by the sudden loss of three of our team members. At this time we have no words, only prayers for the families and loved ones involved.
Greg Pafford, John Pafford, and Jamie Pafford-Gresham all signed the statement. The company also changed its cover photo on the page to an image of the three men killed in the crash.
Dustin Ross, the director of Pafford Air One, later released a follow-up statement saying:
We are all devastated by profoundly saddened by the tragic loss of these valued EMS colleagues and friends. We will continue to try and comfort the crew’s families as well as everyone in our employ.