ALBUQUERQUE – One of the four first responders killed in last weekend's New Mexico helicopter crash managed to call 911 before succumbing to his injuries, according to emergency dispatch recordings.
It’s not clear which crash victim made the call Saturday evening to San Miguel County dispatchers, according to the recordings that were made public on Tuesday. The call sparked a frantic search for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office helicopter in the hills near the northern New Mexico community of Las Vegas.
An unidentified dispatcher said over emergency frequencies that the person who called said they saw dust when the helicopter hit the ground but no smoke or flames. The person also reported that gas was leaking from the aircraft, which was full of fuel because the crew had refueled before taking off for the trip home.
Searchers took more than 30 minutes to find the wreckage, their work complicated by nightfall and increasing difficulties that the initial survivor had in communicating, the dispatch records indicated.
“Subject is in a lot of pain and disoriented,” a dispatcher said at one point.
State police officers who arrived at the scene first initially reported there were two unresponsive patients and two who had died.
Authorities have said that the helicopter crew had wrapped up a firefighting mission and was returning home to Albuquerque when the crash happened. They had spent a few hours that afternoon dropping buckets of water on a wildfire burning on private land near Las Vegas.
The crew included Bernalillo County Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers, Deputy Michael Levison and Bernalillo County Fire Rescue Specialist Matthew King.
The National Transportation Safety Board said earlier this week that the helicopter came down at a high rate of speed, hitting the ground upright before toppling over. Aerial footage of the scene showed mangled wreckage among piñon and juniper trees.
Federal investigators are expected to release a preliminary report about the crash in a the coming weeks and the full investigation could last a year or more.