Flight Paramedic Derek Boehm was part of a three-man crew flying home from a patient transport when their helicopter, Native 5, crashed in a remote part of Arizona’s Superstitions Mountains. Pilot David Schneider, 51, died on impact. Flight Nurse Chad Frary, 38, survived the crash, but succumbed to his injuries. Boehm, alone and freezing, fought to survive. Here, in his own words, is how it went down.
It was December 15th . The Superstitions had gotten snow, and everyone had been grounded the day before just because the ceiling was so low.
I would click into my harness and then make sure it was nice and tight. I always say toddler tight. It was a pretty quick flight. We dropped the patient off and then we repositioned to refuel.
I don’t remember hearing any vibrations or any weird sounds. We started to lose altitude real fast. Then Schneider yelled "Oh, shit." You could see the terrain coming. It looked like water running underneath you. The impact was the most terrifying part. We went end over end. The way I describe it to people is like you go to the beach and you wipe out and you start to tumble, like you don’t know which way is up. I got ejected feet first but my harness caught me.
I started yelling for Schneider and Chad. I could hear Schneider in the pilot's seat. He took maybe five or six breaths before he died. I'm grateful that he didn’t suffer.
I managed to get out of my harness and drop into the snow. I was shouting for Chad. When I went to get up, that's when I felt pop, pop, pop. (His right ankle and five ribs were fractured and both femurs and his left scapula was crushed.) I just managed to scoot with my right elbow along the snow until I got to him.
(Chad) was conscious. He was underneath the skid. It had crushed him from his right shoulder down. We probably tried for 20 or 30 minutes just to see if we could get him out, but there was no way. I told him our friends are going to find us. He said he was having a hard time breathing. There was a rotor blade that had come down, so I wasn’t able to be face-to-face. I was pretty much right at his feet.
Once the sun went down, the temperature dropped fast. I knew (Chad) was in trouble. I could tell his breathing was changing. He was mumbling and kind of delirious. He just slipped away. It’s hard. We had gone out for wings and beers two days before.
I thought about my wife and daughter and I thought about just making this commitment to myself that I'm going to survive this. I found Chad's vest behind me in the wreckage. It felt fantastic to have something on that was dry. I had my trauma shears and I cut the back of the seat off and made the world's most ridiculous beanie.
This is probably three hours after the crash. I could hear rotors in the valley. I knew the only advantage I had was that it was night and they'd be on their night vision. I took out my iPhone and I turned on the flashlight and was waving it at them (in) a back-and-forth pattern.
One of the other rescue helicopters in the area was (from) the Department of Public Safety. The pilot was able to get low enough that their medic, Angela (Rose), jumped out and was able to get to me. She took off her flight jacket and put it around me. It was like a little Barbie coat on me. (She) gave me a shot of ketamine. First it was just fantastic because it made me feel really warm, but it knocked me out.
(While Boehm was knocked out, an HH-60G rescue helicopter from the 55th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson arrived and extracted him.)
I woke up in the Blackhawk. I remember, I was like, "God, how did a Blackhawk get here?" It's kind of funny, when I started looking around I recognized the Air Force uniforms and I was looking at their helicopter and I was thinking to myself, "There's so much room in here, these guys have got it made."
I think I'm on surgery number 10 and I'm walking, I'm talking, I do physical therapy three times a week. I'm just grateful to be alive. I have nothing to complain about in my life.