Coast Guard helicopter crashes in Utah mountains with 5 aboard; 2 seriously injured

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Coast Guard helicopter crashes in Utah mountains

SALT LAKE CITY — A Coast Guard helicopter crashed Wednesday morning in remote Utah mountains after providing security at the Winter Olympics, and three people were airlifted to local hospitals, officials said.

Two crew members were in critical condition and one was in serious condition, according to hospital and Coast Guard officials. Two others sustained minor injuries and were brought out with the help of snowmobiles, he said.

The MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter was one of two traveling through the area en route to home base in Elizabeth City, N.C., after performing security duty at the Vancouver Games, said Dan Dewell, a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 11th District in Alameda, Calif.

The helicopters made a refueling stop in Salt Lake City — one of several required for the long trip — and were headed to Leadville, Colo., when the crash occurred about 50 miles east of Salt Lake City. The co-pilot used a cell phone to call the other helicopter, Dewell said.

Detective Ron Bridge of the Summit County sheriff’s department also said at least one crew member from the downed helicopter communicated via text message, but communications were difficult because of the terrain.

The helicopter went down in a remote, wooded area accessible only by snowmobile, said Sgt. Jeremy Hales of the Wasatch County sheriff’s office.

The second helicopter spotted the wreckage but had to refuel before it returned to pick up two of the injured, according to Lt. Col. Susan Romano, of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Panama City, Fla., which picked up an emergency beacon from one of the crew members.

A third crew member was flown out in a second helicopter.

All were taken to University Hospital at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The Coast Guard said Cdr. Patrick Shaw suffered internal injuries, Lt. Cmdr. Steven Cerveny had a broken leg and Petty Officer 2nd Class Gina Panuzzi also had internal injuries.

Panuzzi underwent surgery and remained in critical condition, along with Shaw, according to Ryann Rasmussen, a hospital spokeswoman. Cerveny was listed in serious condition.

Two others aboard the helicopter — Petty Officer 3rd Class Darren Hicks and Petty Officer 3rd Class Edward Sychra — were uninjured, according to the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard officials didn’t have any information about why the helicopter went down. Blizzard-like conditions were reported at the time of the crash, said Chief Mike Hvozda, a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 5th district, which includes Air Station Elizabeth City.

“I’m not sure if that’s what they ran into or not but that’s what was reported to us,” Hvozda said.

Wasatch County Sheriff Todd Bonner told KSL-TV that visibility was “very minimal” because of snow and wind at the time of the crash.

“They (were) flying a low height, and they just kind of banked in the wrong area — didn’t really see what was there apparently — and into the pine trees,” Bonner said.

The Coast Guard is sending a team to Utah to investigate the crash.

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