ELKO— Although all four people aboard were killed when a medical aircraft went down in northern Nevada, police say the pilot likely saved lives by crashing the plane into a parking lot while avoiding nearby homes and businesses.
The pilot, two medical crew
members and a patient were killed after the American MedFlight plane crashed and caught fire shortly after taking off from Elko Regional Airport on Friday night.
The twin-engine air-ambulance plane, which was based out of Ely, was taking a heart-disease patient to a Utah hospital.
Lt. Rich Genseal of the Elko Police Department said the plane went down in a parking lot for Barrick Gold Corp., where employees park their personal vehicles before taking buses out to a mine. He said the employees on the active shift had already departed by bus, so there weren’t any people in the lot at the time.
Genseal said crashing into the empty lot may have saved lives and by all accounts that part of the crash was no accident. While no one on the ground was hurt, several vehicles were destroyed by fire.
“The plane came down in a parking lot that’s probably only several hundred feet from the apartment complex, multiple dwellings. Not to mention the surrounding areas around that is all housing,” Genseal told Salt Lake City TV station FOX13.
The victims have been identified as pilot Yuji Irie; medical staff members Jake Sheppard of Utah and Tiffany Urresti, 29, of Elko; and patient Edward Clohesey of Spring Creek, Nevada, according to Elko Police Chief Brian Reed.
Reed couldn’t immediately provide ages or hometown information for Irie or Sheppard or Clohesey’s age.
Urresti was a volunteer firefighter in Elko, the chief said.
Genseal says the plane apparently experienced mechanical problems as it was climbing after taking off on the 230-mile flight to Salt Lake City, then lost altitude and crashed.
Officials with American Medflight, based in Reno, Nevada, said the company was cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration as they investigated the crash.
The FAA referred all calls to the NTSB, which is heading the investigation. NTSB officials didn’t immediately provide an update Sunday.
John Burruel, American Medflight’s President and CEO, praised Irie.
“I’ve always said that if I had 50 Yuji’s, this company would be unstoppable and we’d achieve anything we set out to do,” Burruel said in a statement. “He had the best work ethic I’ve ever seen and he cared for people with endless energy and compassion.”
Tiffany Urresti’s parents, Debbi and Jim Urresti of Elko, said she was a former hospital ER nurse who dreamed for years of working as a flight nurse.
Urresti achieved her dream, starting work for American Medflight two months ago, and she was engaged to be married in May, her mother said.
“We are mourning the loss of our crewmembers and patient,” Burruel said. “They are in our thoughts and prayers.”