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St. Lucie, Fla., Medical Helicopter Disabled in Crash with Bird

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- St. Lucie County's (Fla.) medical evacuation helicopters are both out of commission after a buzzard struck the backup A Star helicopter Monday afternoon, Fire Chief Ron Parrish said Wednesday.

The primary helicopter, an Agusta A119, is in Texas for upgrades required by the Federal Aviation Administration because it's now operated by Omniflight Helicopters Inc. as a commercial air ambulance instead of by the fire district and the sheriff's office.

It means delays for trauma patients who have to wait for Martin County's LifeStar or Holmes Regional Medical Center's helicopter to pick them up.

"We're operating under mutual aid agreements as we have for years," Parrish said.

The helicopter's windshield was shattered about 4:15 p.m. Monday when a buzzard struck the craft, which returned safely to St. Lucie County International Airport. The buzzard was killed, but no one was injured in the collision, which occurred in the vicinity of Midway Road.

"Both birds are out of commission, one of them permanently," Parrish said.

The fire district and the sheriff's office provided air medical service until Jan. 1, when Omniflight bought the Agusta A119 for $2.4 million and began operations with its personnel.

Budget cuts caused Sheriff Ken Mascara to back out of providing pilots and mechanics for the craft, which the fire district and the sheriff's office owned jointly.

Fire officials decided to hire a private company to provide the service, and Omniflight bought the craft.

The new arrangement means flights are no longer paid for with tax money, but Omniflight will try to collect from patients and their insurance companies.

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