WPR09TA012
WPR09TA012

On October 13, 2008, at 1518 mountain standard time, an Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZ DPS) paramedic was killed after coming into contact with the main rotor blades of a Bell 407, N42AZ, near Sedona, Arizona. The helicopter was operated by the AZ DPS as a public-use search and rescue (SAR) flight and was performing a mountain rescue on Doe Mountain. The pilot and two hikers were not injured; the helicopter was not damaged. The flight had departed on the SAR mission from the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG), Flagstaff, Arizona, at 1440, to aid in the search and rescue of two stranded hikers.

According to DPS, the helicopter and flight crew were based in Flagstaff; the flight crew consisted of a pilot (right seat) and a paramedic (left seat). Prior to departing FLG, the flight crew had been notified of a SAR mission by the Sedona Fire Department. Sedona Fire Department requested assistance in locating missing hikers in the Doe Mountain area. The flight departed FLG and commenced the search. The flight crew contacted the fire department via radio that they had located the hikers on a mountain northwest of Sedona.

The pilot and both hikers were interviewed by detectives from DPS.

The pilot stated that he landed the helicopter on a rock face, with both skids on the ground, and the tail sticking out over the ledge. He reported that the lateral (left and right) of the helicopter was solid. As he lowered the collective and placed the weight of the helicopter onto the skids he felt the helicopter rocking slightly fore and aft, and decided to maintain the main rotor at 100 percent rpm for stability reasons. He noted that the hikers were forward and slightly above the helicopter's position. The pilot stated that after a brief discussion, the paramedic disconnected his radio and departed out of the left forward side of the helicopter and walked toward the hikers. He reported that the plan was to load the hikers onto the right side of the helicopter as it had been configured with the rear seats on the right side. The left rear seat was typically left uninstalled to make room for the litter/stretcher if there was an injured patient. The male hiker was helped to the helicopter first. Their path was to move right of the helicopter and then downslope prior to entering the cabin. The pilot recalled that the paramedic had to push the hiker's head down prior to leading him to the helicopter. While the male hiker was being placed inside the helicopter, the pilot maintained a visual on the female hiker, making sure that she did not follow the other two to the helicopter. He then observed the paramedic walking back toward the female hiker. As the paramedic and hiker were walking back to the helicopter, the pilot observed that the hiker had gotten caught on something. The paramedic turned to assist the hiker, placing his back to the pilot and helicopter. The pilot stated that after the paramedic helped the hiker, he turned, stood up, erect, and proceeded to turn toward the helicopter. During this time, the pilot, believing that all was normal, may have looked down to check his instruments and radios; when he looked back up, he saw the paramedics feet coming out from underneath him.

At that point the pilot realized that he could not have exited the helicopter to help the paramedic, so he turned his attention to the female hiker. He remembered frictioning the collective, popping open his door, and yelling at the hiker to get into the helicopter.

The pilot reported that there were no mechanical anomalies with the helicopter prior to the accident.

According to the female hiker, after the arrival of the helicopter, the paramedic exited the left side, and motioned to both her and the male hiker to stay where they were. The paramedic then motioned to the male hiker to walk towards him, and instructed the female hiker to stay where she was. The female hiker stated that all of the instructions were via hand signals, and that the paramedic was clearly in charge, and in her opinion had acted very professionally. After the male hiker was placed in the helicopter, the paramedic returned for her. She did not move toward him, but waited for him to get to her position. Once the paramedic was near her, he motioned for her to come closer to him, while also pointing out a cactus plant, and motioning her around it. The hiker stated that the paramedic at this point was facing her with his back to the helicopter, and standing straight up. She believed that he was not underneath the main rotor blades. She walked around the cactus, crouched down and walked in front of the paramedic. She stated that during this whole time the paramedic was looking at her. She walked in front of him, and was walking toward the helicopter when she heard a loud sound. The hiker stated that she wasn't sure why she turned around, because of the sound or because she felt that the paramedic was not behind her anymore. In any case, she turned back to see where the paramedic was and saw him on the ground. At that point, she froze, wanting to help, and at the same time saw the pilot looking at her and yelling to get into the helicopter.

During the male hiker's interview, he stated that he had observed the helicopter was tilted a bit on the pilot's side, "not much, but definitely tilted." When the paramedic exited the left side and came toward him, the paramedic was standing straight erect.

The accident site was documented by AZ DPS. They noted that the helicopter was slightly lower on its right side with the nose slightly elevated. They also inspected the main rotor blades and noted that all of the blades displayed minor surface abrasions approximately 3 to 4 inches from the tip of the blade inboard.

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