The sole survivor of a medical helicopter crash said the aircraft's pilot dipped the aircraft's nose to illustrate a coyote hunt moments before the chopper hit a tree, crashed in a field and burst into flames, killing the pilot and a nurse on board.
Flight nurse-paramedic Michael Eccard was flung from the aircraft and seriously injured during the July, 22, 2010, crash, which killed the pilot, Al Harrison, 56, and nurse Ryan Duke, 35, shortly after takeoff from Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. Details of Eccard's account of the incident were released in a National Transportation Safety Board report on Wednesday.
A toxicology report shows Harrison had painkillers such as hydrocodone in his bloodstream at the time of the crash, even though he reported he took no medications to the FAA.
Eccard provided investigators with a detailed handwritten account of the events eight days after the crash.
His report paints a picture of a typical night shift on a beautiful day in Oklahoma.
“Everyone seemed rested and ready to work,” he writes.
Eccard knew Harrison for four months and Duke for several years. While his experience flying with Harrison was limited to a few months and three missions, Eccard felt he was a “competent pilot,” he writes. Duke was a good friend, Eccard told The Oklahoman in a December 2010 interview.
The crew received a call to go to O'Keene, roughly 90 miles away, to pick up a patient. It was the first flight of the shift.
After takeoff at 7:13 p.m., Eccard saw the front left side door handle latch had come open. He left his seat to close the handle. As he sat back down, Eccard and the pilot started talking. Eccard hadn't had the chance to put his seat belt back on.
“Conversation began about another pilot flying on a coyote hunt,” Eccard writes.
Harrison made a statement “‘like this' — (with some laughter),” Eccard notes.
The aircraft had been in the sky roughly 10 minutes. Its nosed dipped and Eccard looked out the window. The helicopter was flying under power lines.
Harrison tried to pull the nose of the aircraft back up before it struck a tree, but the craft didn't respond, Eccard writes.
Eccard, who was wearing a helmet, wrote that he flew through the windscreen. He crawled away and called 911.
The NTSB report details the violent impact of the crash, which occurred at 7:25 p.m. in a grassy field a few miles southeast of Kingfisher.
Rotor strikes were found on tree limbs almost 700 feet away from the wreckage and the helicopter appears to have skid over 100 feet during the crash, according to the investigation. Two main rotor blades flew hundreds of feet in opposite directions. The aircraft burst into flames. Duke and Harrison died in the crash.
“I tried not to look at the flames. ... I knew the helicopter was there and my partner and my pilot were there as well,” Eccard told The Oklahoman in a December 2010 interview.
He told The Oklahoman at the time of that interview his co-workers were “great at their jobs.”
Harrison's medical records and a toxicology report conducted after the crash show Harrison took a number of drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter.
NTSB documents show Harrison reported a series of orthopedic procedures to the FAA over the years but answered “no” on a medical questionnaire that asked if he currently used any prescription or nonprescription medication. His last medical certificate was issued Feb. 10, according to his FAA medical file, the NTSB reported.
About two weeks later, on Feb. 25, medical records show he was prescribed a painkiller, anti-anxiety drug and sleep aid, among other medications for conditions like hypertension and reflux.
NTSB documents state a toxicology report found Valium, and “a large amount of hydrocodone,” and an over-the-counter sedating antihistamine.
Eccard filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court in October 2011, naming the estate of Allan Harrison and EagleMed LLC as defendants. Eccard is asking for damages of over $75,000 in compensation for injuries, mental suffering, medical care, lost wages and other claims, the suit states.
Harrison was negligent in operating the helicopter; EagleMed was negligent in their hiring of Harrison, the suit states.
It claims EagleMed knew Harrison “intentionally operated the helicopter dangerously,” the lawsuit states.
The Oklahoman's attempts to reach EagleMed officials, Eccard and Eccard's attorney, Gary Homsey, were not successful on Thursday, however, in a written response to Eccard's complaint, EagleMed denied the allegations and asked the court to dismiss the suit.