What to Know
- A medical helicopter, known as a medevac, crashed in a residential neighborhood just west of Philadelphia. It remains unclear what caused the crash. None of the four people onboard suffered life-threatening injuries
- It remains unclear what caused the chopper crash outside a Drexel Hill church.
- None of the four people onboard -- including a 2-month-old girl being taken to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia -- suffered life-threatening injuries, officials said.
A medical helicopter carrying an infant patient to a Philadelphia hospital crashed Tuesday afternoon next to a church in a densely populated residential neighborhood just west of the city.
Neither the child nor a nurse and two crew members of the helicopter suffered life-threatening injuries.
"It's an absolute miracle what you see behind me," Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt said at the scene. "No trees or power lines down."
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Crashed Chopper Came to Rest Next to a Church
The crash site was next to the front steps of a church in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby Township in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Bernhardt said he wants to shake the pilot's hand after bringing the helicopter down with so little destruction.
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The tail of the medevac, as medical helicopters are known, could be seen torn off and folded underneath the cockpit. Emergency officials on scene shortly before the 1 p.m. crash said the four people on the helicopter were able to escape the wreckage before firefighters and police arrived.
"God was at church today watching these people," Tina Hamilton, a witness, told NBC10.
Hamilton said she watched as the pilot, a crew member, a nurse and 2-month-old baby girl emerged from the helicopter after it crashed.
"The passenger side is facing up now," she said. "He climbed out with the child and then helped the other guy out."
Hamilton grabbed blankets from her van to help.
"He got a blanket on him and kept saying, 'Make sure you get that baby to the hospital. Get the baby.' That's what he was saying," Hamilton told NBC10.
The Drexel Hill United Methodist Church at Burmont Road and Bloomfield Avenue appeared to be spared any damage in the immediate aftermath of the crash, as did numerous houses across the street. The scene is about 1 mile from Upper Darby High School.
The infant patient was being taken to Children Hospital of Philadelphia when the helicopter went down. The infant was later taken by ambulance to CHOP for treatment.
“Following the crash of a medical helicopter transporting a young patient to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, we want to express our sincere gratitude to the pilot and first responders for their swift and heroic efforts in safely evacuating all those on-board," CHOP president and CEO Madeline Bell said in a prepared statement.
The pilot and other people on board were also hospitalized. The pilot was upgraded to fair condition overnight.
The identities of the four people onboard have not been identified.
Who Owns and Operates the Chopper?
The helicopter is owned by Colorado-based Air Methods Corp, which provides air medical transport. The company operates in 47 states and has more than 400 helicopters and fixed wing aircrafts.
The chopper was built in 2006 and was owned by Wells Fargo Bank until 2014 when Air Methods Corp bought it.
It usually flies two or three times a day between Hagerstown Regional Airport in Maryland and the Lost Acres airport in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania according to data from FlightAware which tracks aircrafts flight logs.
On Tuesday, the helicopter’s first flight of the day departed from Hagerstown Regional Airport in Maryland 10:29 a.m. and arrived at Lost Acres Airport in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania at 10:37 a.m. It then left Lost Acres Airport in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania at 12:06 p.m. Thirty-seven minutes into the flight, the aircraft started dropping in altitude but not speed. Over the next 10 minutes, the helicopter dropped 3,000 feet at times even accelerating in speed until crash landing in Upper Darby, according to the FlightAware replay of the flight using altitude and speed meters.
The chopper was last certified in 2014, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. It’s current certification was set to expire in 2023.
A spokesman for Air Methods said in a statement that the helicopter is an EC-135 aircraft and part of the LifeNet medevac program.
"The FAA and NTSB have been made aware of this incident and investigators are enroute to assess the situation. Our team will cooperate fully with their efforts to assess the cause of this unfortunate accident," Doug Flanders of Air Methods said in a statement. "Privacy rights with regards to those on board the aircraft will be honored, and we will not be sharing any additional information."
No Major Damage to Nearby Buildings
Emergency officials at the scene said it's incredible that the massive medical aircraft crashed without substantial damage to any surrounding buildings or injuries to any residents.
"We're blessed as a community and as a fire department," Upper Darby Fire Chief Derrick Sawyer said at the scene.
The chopper wreckage remained at the scene Wednesday morning. The NTSB must finish their investigation before it can be moved.