DISTRICT HEIGHTS, Md. -- The Deputy Chief of the Ritchie Volunteer Fire Company in Prince George's County, aware that a Maryland State Police medevac helicopter was missing possibly in his area, began a search for the aircraft and its passengers before State Police made the request for assistance.
Deputy Chief Jamie Hayden tells 9 News Now he had just returned to Company #37 from a run shortly after midnight when he learned that "Trooper 2"was missing.
The control tower at Andrews Air Force Base lost communications with the helicopter carrying 2 accident victims around midnight Saturday night. Radar showed the aircraft 2 to 3 miles from the runway when communications were lost. But, Maryland State Police communications data indicated the helicopter was still in Calvert County.
State Police did not request Prince George's County Fire and EMS to search for the aircraft until 12:42, a delay of about 42 minutes. State Police and control tower personnel were attempting to resolve a discrepancy in those coordinates when Dep. Chief Hayden made the decision to send several pieces of apparatus out into the District Heights and Ritchie communities to begin a visual search for wreckage. "It was a large area," he says, "so we were trying to cover the biggest open areas we could cover in the shortest amount of time."
Eventually, county fire dispatchers traced a "ping" from the pilot's cell phone to an antenna near Central Avenue and the Beltway. That focused the search in the Walker Mill area. At approximately 2:00AM the wreckage was found deep in Walker Mill Regional Park. The 2 members of the flight crew were dead, along with a medic and one of two patients who were being flown from an accident. The second accident victim survived.
When Hayden learned of the location of the crash site, "it actually made me sick to my stomach because I had checked the park earlier...places where it could have landed. But once I found out how deep into the woods it was, I realized that I would never have seen it or heard it or smelled anything anyway."
Maryland State Police have not yet responded to questions concerning the delay in requesting Fire Department assistance. However, due to the severity of the injuries sustained by the victims, it's considered very unlikely that it would have made a difference.
Republished with permission of WUSA-TV.