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Night Goggles Help Avert Helicopter Crash in Washington

SEATTLE, Wash. — Night-vision goggles that are now a standard part of all Airlift Northwest helicopter equipment might have made the difference between a rough landing and a bad crash Tuesday morning when a pilot made an emergency landing in an open field in Stanwood, Wash.

The pilot and two nurses on board, who were on their way to pick up a patient at Jefferson Community Hospital in Port Townsend, were not injured.

The emergency landing was about six miles west of Interstate 5, around 6 a.m., and was caused by problems with the rotor blade, Airlift Northwest spokeswoman Mardie Rhodes said.

Airlift Northwest called for an organization-wide stand-down of its helicopters for safety inspections and to brief pilots on the incident. The agency transports about 4,500 patients each year.

In 2005, two of the company s helicopters crashed. One went down in the waters off Edmonds, killing three crewmembers. A month later, another Airlift Northwest helicopter crashed in Olympia, injuring a nurse.

As a result of those crashes, Airlift Northwest began implementing safety improvements, including upgrading equipment, enhancing pilot training and replacing the helicopter fleet. Providing night vision goggles was one of those changes.

Steve Lodwig, program aviation manager for Northwest Airlift in the helicopter division, said the pilot, James Campbell, told him the goggles helped to pick out a safe place to land in the early-morning darkness.

He said it was a great aid to him and paid great dividends, Lodwig said.

Campbell is a retired U.S. Army pilot and site manager for the Airlift Northwest facility at Arlington. He has been flying for the Seattle-based company for a couple of years.

The downed helicopter was an Augusta 109 that the company has recently added to its fleet.

This report includes information from The Associated Press.

P-I reporter Kathy Mulady can be reached at 206-448-8029 or [email protected]