Coast Guard Helicopter Returning from Olympics Crashes in Utah


 
 

MIKE STARK | | Thursday, March 4, 2010


SALT LAKE CITY - Authorities say snow and wind affected visibility in remote Utah mountains where a Coast Guard helicopter went down as it returned home from the Olympics, but they still don't know if that's what caused the crash. All five people aboard survived.



Two were in critical condition following Wednesday's accident and one was in serious condition, according to hospital officials. All three had to be airlifted from the remote crash site.



Another two with minor injuries were brought out on snowmobiles.



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., before spending the night in Kansas City.



The helicopter went down in a wooded area about 50 miles east of Salt Lake City.



Coast Guard officials didn't immediately know 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.



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



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.



After the crash, the co-pilot used a cell phone to call the Coast Guard colleagues, 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 ended up on its side in a heavily 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. 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, 37, Juneau, Alaska, suffered internal injuries; Lt. Cmdr. Steven Cerveny, 40, Lincoln, Neb., had a broken leg; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Gina Panuzzi, 31, Lacey Thurston, Wash., 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.



The two others aboard the helicopter were Petty Officer 3rd Class Darren Hicks, 22, Oroville, Wash.; and Petty Officer 3rd Class Edward Sychra, 26, Blanchard, Ind., according to the Coast Guard.



The crash hits hard with the close-knit Coast Guard community, Hvozda said.



"Whenever we hear something like this, you heart immediately goes out to the folks involved and their families," he said.




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