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Crash Kills 3 Rescuers En Route to Accident

September 08, 2002|HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three rescuers en route to a traffic accident died Saturday when their medical helicopter slammed into the ground near the Nevada-California line, authorities said.

Killed instantly in the dawn crash were the pilot, flight nurse and paramedic in the Mercy Air Bell 222 helicopter, said Pat Dennen, a San Bernardino County fire division chief.

Their names have not been released. However, Clark County Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey identified the paramedic as her daughter, Kalaya Jarbsunthie, 31, of Las Vegas.

"She was a special person, and we are completely devastated by this," Kincaid-Chauncey said in a statement.

The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the crash. The accident's cause had not been determined.

The driver in the car crash, Jorge Luis De Santiago, 24, of La Puente, was taken by ground ambulance to University of Las Vegas Medical Center where he was arrested for investigation of drunken driving.

The helicopter, based in Pahrump, Nev., was headed to an accident in a desolate area named Mountain Pass off Interstate 15 near Baker, Calif., said Lee Haney, spokeswoman for Fontana-based Mercy Air.

It's the first crash for Air Mercy since the company began operations in 1988, Haney said. However, it was the third crash involving a Pahrump-based medical helicopter since April 3, 1999, when a pilot and two flight nurses were killed near Indian Springs, authorities said. The company involved in those crashes, Flight for Life, has since been bought by Mercy Air.

The traffic accident occurred shortly after 3 a.m. between Bailey and Cima roads about 20 miles from Primm, Nev. The site is on a roughly 200-mile stretch of highway with few emergency services nearby, Dennen said.

Because fire stations and hospitals are so far away, the close cooperation of fire departments, ground paramedics and private air ambulance companies is especially critical in the area, Dennen said.

"When you rescue a stranger, that's your job. But when you respond to an incident involving one of your own, it's very difficult," he said. "It doesn't matter if it's a firefighter, a helicopter pilot or a police officer--we're all together, we're all family. Sometimes, we're all we have."

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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