Created: 04/25/2014 6:13 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4
Some pilots say that if there’s any such thing as a good crash, it’s a crash you walk away from. By that standard the April 9 helicopter crash at UNM Hospital was a good one – but a newly released security video shows how it could have gone much, much worse.
12 seconds – that’s all the time the veteran pilot had to keep his out-of-control helicopter from spinning into a flaming crash into the side of the hospital or onto the asphalt of Lomas Boulevard down below. It was a takeoff that went bad instantly. The pilot said his foot pedal controls were unresponsive, frozen.
“He doesn’t want to drift back around into our hospital, or down onto the street where people may be, or into the hospital or onto the campus,” said Dr. Bob Bailey, a hospital emergency center commander, as he screened the video for the news media Friday afternoon. “The option available to him, which he very skillfully does, it to lay it down on its side on the roof of the hospital next to the helipad.”
To the rescue – two security guards – Eugene Lujan heading straight for the burning helicopter, Roberto Sandoval right there with a fire extinguisher.
“Once it was down we went activated the system,” Lujan said, speaking of the water cannons aimed at the helipad, which he re-aimed at the helicopter nearby. “ We went to work and everything. They needed help. There were no ifs and whats – they just needed help so we just responded.”
“I didn’t really think about my safety,” Sandoval said. “It was just – the crew needs help and we need to help ‘em out.” Sandoval said he never even thought about the helicopters gas tank, full of jet fuel. Luckily for everybody, that did not ignite.
“What was probably burning was hydraulic fluid or something like that,” Bailey said. “But there was a fairly full fuel tank in there, a very dangerous fire sitting on top of our roof.”
Firefighters from the Albuquerque Fire Department arrived within a few minutes to put the fire out for keeps. Lujan and Sandoval helped the pilot and two crew members out of the wreckage and through the smoke to safety, the crewmen unscathed and the pilot suffering only minor injuries.
Three days later a giant crane plucked the helicopter wreckage off the roof and onto a truck. It’s now being looked over by federal investigators. No final word on the cause of the crash is expected for months. The roof was repaired much quicker than anybody expected, and the helipad is back in business for airlifting patients.