Friday, September 30, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Three die in medical helicopter crash

The Associated Press

The pilot and two nurses aboard a medical transport helicopter were killed when the aircraft crashed into Puget Sound north of Seattle on a flight back to its base, authorities said today.

A search crew found the remains of one person this morning and was searching for the other two. The search was centered in the large debris field left by the Agusta A109/Mark II twin-engine helicopter when it plunged Thursday night into the sound off Edmonds, about 15 miles north of Seattle.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, authorities said.

The wreckage was found around 1 a.m. today, about four hours after the crash. The remains were found when search crews resumed work shortly after daylight.

Airlift Northwest identified the three as pilot Steve Smith, 59, of Whidbey Island, and nurses Erin Reed, 48, and Lois Suzuki, 47, both of Seattle.

Officials at a National Transportation Safety Board briefing today said one body had been recovered. A Coast Guard vessel was using sonar to search for wreckage that sank in about 300 feet of water.

Edmonds police Sgt. Jeff Jones said papers and pieces of the helicopter found about a mile offshore identified the aircraft. The debris field was about a quarter-mile wide and a half-mile long, Jones said.

Airlift Northwest said the helicopter left Harborview Medical Center in Seattle at 9:04 p.m. yesterday bound for its home base at the Arlington airport, about 40 miles north.

The company's dispatcher had contact with the pilot at 9:14 p.m. but was unable to contact the aircraft 10 minutes later, the company said.

An Edmonds-area resident called 911 shortly after 9 p.m. to report having heard a helicopter fly over, Jones said. The caller reported "shortly after that it sounded 'funny' and then they heard an explosion," Jones said.

Weather at the time included areas of fog and mist and some gusty winds.

Airlift Northwest, based in Seattle, provides emergency air transport service for critically ill or injured patients in Washington, Alaska, Montana, Idaho and western Canada.

According to the NTSB's accident database, last night's crash was Airlift Northwest's third helicopter accident since 1995. All three involved Agusta A109A/Mark II helicopters.

A pilot and two nurses were killed on Sept. 11, 1995, when their helicopter crashed in Puget Sound near Winslow Harbor, about 12 miles southwest of today's crash site. A federal investigation found the pilot failed to maintain sufficient altitude above the water.

Smith barely survived a crash in 2002, which the NTSB said was caused by engine failure in his helicopter. Smith, the only person on board, tore an artery near his heart, broke his back and fractured every rib on his left side.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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