ELLIS COUNTY — A CareFlite medical helicopter crashed near Midlothian in Ellis County Wednesday afternoon.
A pilot and a mechanic aboard the Bell 222 helicopter were killed; their names were not released.
CareFlite said no patients were being transported at the time of the crash.
Jim Swartz, CareFlite president and CEO, visited the scene of the crash on Wednesdays evening.
"We haven't had to deal with something of this magnitude — a death in our family — in over a quarter of a century," he said. "It is, to be very plain, our worst day."
WFAA aerials on Wednesday afternoon showed the destroyed helicopter still smoldering in a partially burned field.
Kyle Barnett raced to the scene after hearing that two CareFlite employees had lost their lives in the fiery crash. The EMS worker is close to several members of the medical chopper team.
"We're all one big family, so to see one go down is like watching your brother or sister go down," Barnett said. "It breaks your heart."
Dennis Lauterbach Jr., a helicopter pilot who works nearby at Quality Aircraft, took to the air in the minutes after the crash to see what had happened.
"From what you could see of the helicopter, what was left, there was nothing; there was no helicopter left. There was pretty much ashes," Lauterbach added.
CareFlite said the helicopter was on a maintenance flight that had originated at Grand Prairie Airport.
The location of the crash is at Highway 67 and Wyatt Road. The crash took place at 2:02 p.m., CareFlite said.
The helicopter blade was found some distance away from the crash site. A small fire was ignited when the helicopter crashed.
"Because of where the tail boom was in relation to the helicopter — and it's virtually no damage whatsoever to it — so that we assume that it broke off," Lauterbach said.
That analysis was echoed by HD Chopper 8 pilot Troy Bush as he observed the debris field. "Something went terribly, terribly wrong with the main rotor, possibly coming off," he said. "There's absolutely nothing left of the fuselage of this helicopter."
CareFlite said it had purchased the helicopter three months ago from Addison-based Omniflight, another company that operates medical evacuation helicopters. In a statement issued Wednesday night, Omniflight said the Bell 222 was in airworthy condition at the time of the sale.
Aircraft operated by Omniflight — one of the nation's air ambulance services —were involved in five accidents over a six-month period ending in February with a crash at Fort Bliss near El Paso that claimed three lives.
A representative of the Federal Aviation Administration was already at the scene of the CareFlite crash late Wednesday afternoon. A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was on the way from Houston.
"It's a sad loss for us, especially when you deal with a company that you work with closely every day, and you call them to the scene for help," said Midlothian Deputy Fire Chief Dale McCaskill. "It kind of hits close to home when it's somebody that you deal with on a regular basis."
"We thank the Midlothian Fire Department for responding to this accident," a CareFlite spokesman said. "We ask that you keep the families of those killed and of all first responders in your thoughts and prayers."
Freelance photographer Timothy Pruitt took several pictures of the doomed helicopter in the air at Grand Prairie Airport shortly before it crashed. The images may be able to help investigators determine the cause of the crash.