Air Methods Corp. has identified the three crew members killed in Wednesday's fiery helicopter crash on Tucson's north side.
Pilot Alex Kelley, 61; paramedic Brenda French, 28; and flight nurse Parker Summons, 41, were aboard the AS350 B3 Eurocopter that crashed about 1:45 p.m. Wednesday into a fence and shed just outside a home on North Park Avenue near East Glenn Street.
French, who began working for Air Methods subsidiary LifeNet in March, died at the scene. Kelley, an employee since 2002 and Summons, who had worked for LifeNet since 2007, died at University Medical Center, company officials said.
"We're deeply saddened by this tragic event," Craig Yale, vice president of corporate development for Colorado-based Air Methods, said at a news conference today.
Yale said a memorial service is planned sometime next week for the three fallen crew members.
Life Net, which operates seven medical helicopters from six bases throughout central and southern Arizona, is on a safety standdown following the crash, Yale said.
Flight crews will return to service after they go through a "critical stress debriefing" and it's deemed appropriate to fly again, Yale said, though no timetable has been given for when that will occur.
In the meantime, any emergency calls Life Net would have taken will be handled by other area helicopter outfits, Yale said.
The helicopter, known within the company as LifeNet 12, was traveling from Marana to Douglas at the time of the crash, Yale said. It had been at the company's base located at Marana Regional Airport for routine maintenance and was in the process of being returned to its home base, he said.
"There's maintenance on helicopters all the time," Yale said, declining to specify what maintenance was undertaken.
Yale said it was routine for three crew members to be on board, even for just picking up the aircraft, because the crew could have been called into service on its flight back to Douglas.
The helicopter's pilot was in contact with the control tower at Tucson International Airport at the time of the crash, but there was no indication of a problem, said Lynn Lunsford, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
"The conversation was routine," Lunsford said.
The area of the crash remains closed to traffic until Friday afternoon, Tucson police said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is working with the FAA on the crash investigation, which could take up to a year to complete, Lunsford said.
"They're very methodical," Lunsford said. "They go through a lot of steps and cross-checks."
John Townsend, 74, who lives at the house where the helicopter crashed partially in the backyard, said he heard a loud bang, then his home shook.
"I've never felt my house shake," he said. He ran outside and tried to put out the fire with a garden hose but was turned back by the intense heat.
Immediately after the crash Townsend said he didn't realize it was a helicopter. Then he heard "a loud explosion and then several small explosions."
Kevin Perkins saw the helicopter crash.
"I heard the helicopter; and I looked up and it's coming from the northwest toward the southwest very low," he said. "I thought it was really strange that it was flying so low."
Perkins said the helicopter nose-dived to the ground and exploded.
"The whole front end of the helicopter was completely engulfed in flames, and the only thing I could see was the tail rudder, which was kind of sitting out on Park," he said.
Another eyewitness, Ricardo Carrasco, said the helicopter's rotors stopped working and it started to plummet.
He said the pilot managed to steer the helicopter away from the house.
"If he (the pilot) hadn't turned around he'd have hit the house," said Carrasco, who ran toward the helicopter after it crashed but wasn't able to get close because of "a wall of flames."
Joe Furno, who lives on the same street as Townsend, said the helicopter originally was heading toward at least two houses.
"The way it was going, it might've hit between two houses and maybe hit mine," Furno said. "He took it right into the middle of Park Avenue."
People inside of a nearby auto shop heard the crash.
"One of the employees heard a loud boom, but he didn't know what it was and he went back to working on a car," said Tyler Edwards, 34, a service adviser at Stuttgart Autohaus, 614 E. Glenn St.
"Two people walked in who said they saw the craft go down. It appeared it had a malfunction and they saw it go down and then there was a lot of black smoke," said Edwards of the couple who walked into the shop.
Star reporters Carol Ann Alaimo, Josh Brodesky, Carmen Duarte, Kimberly Matas, Jamar Younger and Becky Pallack contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian J. Pedersen at email@example.com or 573-4224.