FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A medical rescue helicopter caught fire and broke apart shortly after takeoff Monday before crashing into an apartment complex near Fort Lauderdale, killing a paramedic captain on board and a resident on the ground, authorities said. Two others on board and two other people at the apartment complex were injured.
Broward County Fire-Rescue Capt. Terryson Jackson, 49, and a woman died when the Broward Sheriff’s Office helicopter crashed through the complex’s roof after taking off from Pompano Beach Airpark at about 8:45 a.m., Sheriff Gregory Tony said. He said the four injured were taken to the hospital and are expected to survive.
Jackson was a 19-year veteran of the department.
“Terryson was a rock star, he was one of the best of us,” said Tony, who also oversees the county’s fire department. “He bled this profession inside and out all day long.”
The injured firefighters are pilot Daron Roche, 37, and Mike Chaguaceda, 31.
The dead woman’s name was not released as her family was being notified, Tony said.
The three-member crew was heading to an emergency medical rescue to take the patient to the hospital. A video posted online shows flames coming from the midsection of the helicopter as it is trailed by a long plume of smoke. The helicopter then appears to break in half as it begins to spiral, plunging to the ground. A video from another angle showed that the helicopter’s blades were not turning rapidly.
Tony said that even as the crew members were declaring a mayday to the airport’s control tower and trying to save their helicopter, they were also radioing paramedics at the medical emergency to let them know they would have to take the patient to the hospital.
“We are talking about the character of these men,” Tony said. “As they were fighting for their lives, they were thinking about somebody else.”
Witness Brian Piggott told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that the helicopter began trailing smoke as soon as it took off. It then lost altitude and crashed.
Victoria Walczak, who was inside the apartment building, said the crash was louder than thunder.
“I thought a bomb went off,” she told the newspaper.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.