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Monday, September 1, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: Everyday Heros

PERSONAL

Gui Cipriani, a commercial operator with Rotors of the Rockies in Broomfield, Colo., and Jake Harmon, a certified flight instructor and private instrument pilot, didn’t hesitate when they saw an amateur-built, single-engine, fixed-wing aircraft crash in a field soon after takeoff from Erie Airpark in Erie, Colo. at 0950 local time on Aug. 5. The pair had less than 1,500 hr combined, but were ready for an event that couldn’t be covered in training.

"We were originally going to Greeley, but the winds were good down Runway 33, so we decided to do some practice autos there," Harmon told R&W. "As we were taking off, the aircraft that crashed was taxiing behind us." The aircraft was a Flynn Van Munk.

"As soon as we circled around, we saw him impact the ground," Harmon said. "He crashed into a farmer’s field and we made a quick decision to go down there to help him out. We looked at each other and decided to just go."

Both Harmon and Cipriani said there really wasn’t much communication between them when they saw the crash as they flew Cipriani’s Eurocopter EC120. "We read each other pretty good, hardly any conversation, we just knew what we had to do," said Harmon. "If you saw someone crash on the side of the road, you’d stop and help him, so that’s what we did. As soon as Gui touched down, I hopped out to see what we could do."

The only discussion Cipriani remembers is calling the tower to report the accident. "Then Jake acted as a [tactical flight officer] to make sure there weren’t any wires in my way. I said, ‘As soon as we land, you get out and I’ll shut down.’"

"I saw the plane taking off and crash almost immediately," Cipriani said, "We circled and called in the crash" to the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport tower. "We were about a quarter mi away and were on the ground within 45 sec. I landed about 25 yd from the crash."

Harmon, who minored in emergency medical services in college is a certified emergency medical technician, ran from the helicopter to help the two crash victims. As soon as Cipriani shut down, he also rushed to the victims.

"By the time I arrived, the grandfather was walking around. It was tandem seating and the grandson was stuck," said Cipriani.

"His grandson was jammed under the instrument panel, so I and another guy, who happened to be there, pulled him out," said Harmon. "We got him 20 ft away because we were worried about a fire and that’s when I saw that he was bleeding from his head and legs. I pulled up his shorts and both legs were sliced open. I tried to bandage his legs and held compression as best we could until the ambulance arrived. "

Both men said that even though it sounds like the entire operation took a long time, everything happened very quickly. "Police were there within three min, but paramedics took about 15 min because they couldn’t find their way into the field.," said Cipriani. "We spent the time tending to the boy, trying to keep him calm and distract him."

"Yes," agreed Harmon, "when I first looked at his legs they weren’t bleeding hardly at all and I remember from the training that they might not start gushing right away. But as soon as we laid him down [away from the demolished aircraft] it did start to bleed pretty heavy so we wrapped his legs with a T-shirt."

Others had arrived and "were holding compression on his legs and I kept compression on the gash in his head. I tried to keep him calm, I was holding his hand. He was definitely in shock and when the adrenaline wore off his was in a lot of pain. There were 11-12 in gashes down to the bone in both legs. I’d never seen any images like that even in my training," Harmon explained.

Harmon said that extracting the boy from the aircraft was difficult because the aircraft "was so torn up. We pulled the kid out, which was a little difficult with the way the aircraft was positioned."

However, the pair did agree the fixed-wing pilot did a good job of putting the airplane down. The field was very soft and the pilots think it may have been freshly tilled. "I think one of the gears buckled and the plane just spun," said Harmon. "We didn’t see it cartwheel, we just saw a cloud of smoke."

With adrenaline pumping and a little shaken, the men headed back to home base. "We came straight back to Metro and landed and all of a sudden I was really tired," said Cipriani. "It was the same for me," agreed Harmon. "We took the rest of the day off to cool down, cancelling our flights."

The grandson, who was more severely injured, was said to be in stable condition at press time. Both victims are expected to recover. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating the crash. — Rion Haley

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