Jump to content

Valley Air Care EMS Ship down in the Laguna Madre


Recommended Posts

Investigators trying to recover wrecked helicopter fuselage

By JOSÉ BORJÓN/The Brownsville Herald

February 7, 2008 - 12:22AM

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND —- Inclement weather was likely a factor in Tuesday’s deadly helicopter crash in the Laguna Madre, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ben Sparacin said Wednesday.


Weather warnings predicting high wind gusts and fog hung over the Valley AirCare flight that aborted what would be its last mission just minutes before it plunged into the bay water, killing all aboard.


The bodies of Michael T. Sanchez, 39, and Raul Garcia, 38, paramedics aboard the downed Valley AirCare chopper, were recovered shortly after emergency workers arrived at the crash site, a few miles off of Holly Beach.


Pilot Robert Goss’ body was recovered approximately 150 yards north of the wreckage at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sheriff Omar Lucio said. Justice of the Peace Benny Ochoa III pronounced the three Rio Grande Valley residents dead at the scene. Autopsies have been ordered.


“We have notified the NTSB along with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration),” Lucio said. “They have indicated to us they will take on the investigation to determine what happened.”


On Wednesday evening, the National Transportation Safety Board took over the investigation.


Today, federal investigators hope to discover more of what caused the accident. Officials had hope to lift the wreckage from the water this morning and begin collecting debris they believe has washed ashore, but a low tide has delayed their plans.


Few details were known at press time Wednesday about the fatal flight that was en route from Harlingen to the South Padre Island Convention Centre to pick up a patient.


It was called off just a few miles from shore because of unspecified weather conditions. “They could not land,” Lucio said. “They were going back to their base.”


A cold front that blew through Deep South Texas Tuesday night brought high winds gusting between 20 mph and 30 mph, said Jeff Philo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Brownsville.


At the time of the crash, around 9 p.m., there was no rain and visibility was 7 miles, which is normal, Philo said.


“They (likely) were right on the sheer line between north and south winds at that time,” he said. “If (the crash) were a weather-related problem, it would have been from that.”


Earlier that afternoon, meteorologist Jeoffrey Bogorad issued a Marine Weather Statement warning “sea fog” near the Laguna Madre was possible as the cold front pushed south.


NWS preceded this warning with a wind advisory that predicted high, sustained winds. That advisory expired at 6 p.m. Tuesday, hours before the flight.


The pilot last communicated with dispatchers at 8:52 p.m., U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ben Sparacin said. “At 8:58 p.m. they lost communication. At 9 p.m., they (dispatchers) figured something was wrong and contacted authorities.”


Coast Guard officials were notified of the downed helicopter at 9:50 p.m., Sparacin said.


Shortly after, Brownsville and Weslaco fire department dive teams were called to begin search and rescue efforts, which soon turned to a search and recovery mission.


Divers swept through the Laguna Madre late Tuesday into early Wednesday. Search efforts were called off at about 2 a.m., after two victims were found.


The search for Goss’ body began again at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Brownsville Fire Chief Lenny Perez said.


Staff with South Texas Emergency Care Foundation, which operates Valley AirCare and its ambulance fleet, did not immediately return calls for comment Wednesday.


Jason Moody, spokesman for the town of South Padre Island, did not know what happened to the patient who was waiting to be transferred from the South Padre Island Convention Center.


According to its Web site, stec-ems.org, Valley AirCare has been in operation in the Rio Grande Valley since Feb. 1, 1995.


Valley AirCare “has transported more than 4,900 citizens of South Texas and Northern Mexico since its inception,” the Web site states.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...