Two men killed in a medical helicopter crash Friday are being remembered as skilled professionals who accepted risky positions to save lives.
The helicopter crashed Friday morning in northwest Oklahoma City, killing the pilot and flight nurse and critically injuring a third man. No patients were aboard.
The Eurocopter AS 350 helicopter was owned and operated by EagleMed, a Wichita-based air medical transport service.
Pilot Mark Montgomery and flight nurse Chris Denning died in the crash, and paramedic Billy Wynne was injured, EagleMed spokesman Robbie Copeland said.
Wynne was taken to OU Medical Center in critical condition. Late Friday afternoon, Wynne was en route to the burn unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, a nurse there said.
The helicopter had taken off from Integris Baptist Medical Center and was headed to Watonga to pick up a patient when it crashed about 5:40 a.m., Integris spokeswoman Brooke Cayot said.
The patient in Watonga was transferred from Mercy Hospital Watonga to Oklahoma Heart Hospital and was treated there, a Mercy spokeswoman said.
The helicopter crashed on St. Ann Drive in Oklahoma City, narrowly missing nearby St. Ann Retirement Center and St. Ann Nursing Home, which are situated on either side of the road.
It is unclear how much control Montgomery had over the aircraft at the time of the crash.
No one at the retirement village was seriously hurt, said Tina Dzurisin, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
Seven staff members rushed to the crash scene to help. Three helped pull one of the crew members from the wreckage just before a second explosion, Dzurisin said.
Someone from the nursing home called 911 to report the first explosion, initially thinking a car was on fire.
While on the phone with a dispatcher, the caller could be heard speaking with another person, then shouting “Oh, my gosh! Somebody's in there?”
The caller then told the dispatcher the vehicle on fire was a helicopter.
A retirement village resident said he did not hear the crash and explosions but woke up when his son called. Benny Goe, 87, said he was startled that the crash was so close.
“It was between our independent living center and the nursing home on St. Ann Drive,” Goe said.
“I saw the tail of the helicopter, and the grass was burned off.”
More than 9,000 Integris employees were notified about the helicopter crash Friday morning in an email from Bruce Lawrence, Integris Health president and CEO.
In the email, Lawrence noted that Denning had worked for Integris for nearly a decade before going to work for EagleMed, first in radiology and then in the hospital's intensive care unit.
Lawrence said the company would mourn Denning's death as “a member of our extended family.”
Lawrence asked employees to reflect on the helicopter transport teams with whom they work.
“There is always an element of risk in what they do, but they knowingly accept that reality and in return save countless lives,” Lawrence said. “They should be applauded for their bravery and skill.”
Montgomery retired from the Oklahoma National Guard in March 2011 as a chief warrant officer after serving for more than 20 years. He spent most of his National Guard career as a pilot in the Counterdrug Aviation Unit, said Lt. Col. Max Moss, Oklahoma National Guard spokesman.
Montgomery enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1983 and served as an enlisted soldier until he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1991. He became a warrant officer in 1996.
Col. Jon Harrison, the Oklahoma National Guard state aviation officer, knew Montgomery professionally for more than a decade. Montgomery was a passionate, proficient pilot, Harrison said.
Local, state and federal officials tended to like flying on counterdrug missions with Montgomery, Harrison said. Montgomery was adept at spotting illegal marijuana fields from the air, so those flights tended to be productive, he said.
“I would say he was one that was passionate about flying,” Harrison said. “He was definitely an outstanding pilot.”
This is the second fatal crash involving an EagleMed helicopter in Oklahoma. On July 22, 2010, one of the company's helicopters crashed and burned near Kingfisher.
The pilot and a flight nurse were killed, and a second nurse was seriously injured.
That helicopter left Integris Baptist Medical Center and was on the way to pick up a patient in Okeene when it crashed, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report. That helicopter was a Eurocopter AS 350, similar to the one that crashed Friday.
Another EagleMed Eurocopter AS 350 made a hard landing Feb. 29, 2012, damaging the tail boom and part of the fuselage. That accident occurred while an FAA check pilot was giving the EagleMed pilot a night vision goggle check flight. The check pilot continued the flight after the hard landing.
Contributing: Staff writers Adam Kemp, Joey Stipek and