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‘It’s an Absolute Miracle’: Medical Helicopter Crashes Near Church, Baby and 3 Others Survive

BY The Associated Press TIMEJanuary 17, 2022 PRINT

A heroic pilot crash-landed a medical helicopter on Jan. 11, without any loss of life in a residential area of suburban Philadelphia. He somehow avoided a web of power lines and buildings as the aircraft fluttered, hit the street, and slid into bushes outside a church, authorities and witnesses said.

It was a “miracle” that none of the four people aboard, including an infant patient, suffered life-threatening injuries, Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy M. Bernhardt said.

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A medical helicopter rests next to the Drexel Hill United Methodist Church after it crashes in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby Township in Delaware County, Pa. on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. (Monica Herndon/AP Photo)

Rescue crews rushed to the wreckage by the Drexel Hill United Methodist Church in Upper Darby at about 1 p.m. and helped get the pilot, two crew members, and the infant out of the aircraft, Bernhardt said at a press conference.

The infant was taken to a hospital as authorities worked to notify the child’s family, Bernhardt further added.

A man at the scene of the medical helicopter crash told a dispatcher he was most concerned about the infant girl, who survived, but that the pilot was the only passenger not alert after the wreck, according to a 911 call excerpt that was released on Jan. 14.

The unidentified caller described the pilot as a middle-aged man in the transcript released by Delaware County officials.

“He is breathing, he is talking,” he told the dispatcher. “My main concern right now is the 2-month-old child, I need an ambulance here right away.”

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A crew member exiting the helicopter with the infant girl in his arms. (Courtesy of Laura Mellon)

The dispatcher said help was already on the way.

Brian Rayner, a senior safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters on Jan. 13 he was grateful that the occupants were relatively unhurt in the crash.

The pilot’s injuries were most severe, but the other two adults and the girl were “miraculously unhurt,” he said.

A spokesperson for Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania said no new information about the girl’s condition was available.

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A crashed medical helicopter is removed from the scene in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby, Pa., on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

The Eurocopter EC135 medical helicopter was owned by Denver-based Air Methods, an air medical emergency transport service. The company said the aircraft—which was part of the LifeNet program based in Hagerstown, Maryland—had taken off from out of state. It’s believed to have encountered mechanical problems during the flight, said a Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokesperson, citing reports from county officials.

At the crash site, a stop sign on the corner was cleaved into two and had apparently been hit by the helicopter when it came down. The aircraft was on its side in two pieces, just outside the stone church.

“It’s a miracle, it’s an absolute miracle, here what you see behind me,” Bernhardt said, appreciating the pilot for landing the helicopter the way he did.

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A medical helicopter rests next to the Drexel Hill United Methodist Church after it crashed the day before in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby, Pa, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

A witness, Joshua James, said he was driving nearby with his wife and young son when he saw the tail of the helicopter swaying back and forth as it slid to a stop. He put his car in reverse.

“It makes no sense to me that it didn’t hit any of the wires or anything—that it didn’t hit us,” James said.

Jerrell Saunders, 28, said he had been walking from his work in maintenance at an apartment building nearby when he saw the helicopter “just floating, like real low, like extremely low, like it could land on the building that I work at.”

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A crashed medical helicopter is removed from the scene in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby, Pa., on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

He got in his car to go to the hardware store and the helicopter was going in the same direction. He said he saw it hit the ground in the middle of the road and slide across the ground until it crashed.

“I guess the pilot tried to land in a safe area, because it took a bounce on the a ground and fell and, like, slid,” Saunders said.

The helicopter turned on its side and, as smoke was coming out, he saw people jumping out of the helicopter.

“I’m telling my grandkids about this one,” Saunders added.

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A crew member exiting the helicopter with the infant girl in his arms. (Courtesy of Laura Mellon)

A fire official said the helicopter had about an hour’s worth of fuel left at the time of the crash, and crews took steps to stop leaking fuel from contaminating groundwater.

A spokesman for Air Methods, the air medical emergency transport service that owns the helicopter, said it was part of the LifeNet program based in Hagerstown, Maryland. Federal agencies were investigating.

“Our team will cooperate fully with their efforts to assess the cause of this unfortunate accident,” said Air Methods spokesman Doug Flanders.

Epoch Times Staff contributed to this report.

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