Medical helicopter crash outside Philadelphia caught on camera in new video

The helicopter is seen falling from the sky, and a loud crash can be heard as it hit the church grounds.

ByAnnie McCormick, Jaclyn Lee, Dann Cuellar WPVI logo
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Medical helicopter crash caught on video; wreckage removed
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Action News has obtained surveillance video showing the moment a medical helicopter crashed near a church in Drexel Hill, Delaware County.

UPPER DARBY, Pa. -- New surveillance video shows the moment a medical helicopter crashed near a church in suburban Philadelphia Tuesday.

In the video obtained by our sister station WPVI, the camera was pointed right at the Drexel Hill United Methodist Church in Drexel Hill.

The helicopter is seen falling from the sky, and a loud crash can be heard as it hit the church grounds.

A pilot, two other crew members and an infant patient were on board at the time. The two crew members and the baby escaped without serious injury, but the NTSB said on Wednesday the pilot remains hospitalized with serious injuries.

"I had a very brief meeting with the pilot today," NTSB spokesman Brian Rayner said during a news conference. "His medical condition precludes him from speaking to us any time in the immediate future."

"His prognosis is good but he's very uncomfortable," Rayner continued.

While no official cause has been determined, Rayner said at an earlier briefing said the evidence points to this being an accident.

WPVI's helicopter was over the scene on Wednesday evening as crews worked to remove the wreckage from the crash scene.

Chopper 6 was over the scene on Wednesday night as crews removed the wreckage of a helicopter crash in Drexel Hill, Pa. the day before.

Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration and the NTSB say this is now a data-gathering mission to figure out what went wrong.

"There are electronic components on board that we will be able to download on-site, there are components we will have to remove and ship to other places here in the United States, and there are potentially components that we have to ship to Europe," Rayner said.

The helicopter was traveling from WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia when the incident occurred.

The three crew members were rushed to Lankenau Medical Center and the two-month-old infant patient was taken to CHOP.

"It's a miracle. It's an absolute miracle," said Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy M. Bernhardt.

There have been no reports of any injuries to people on the ground.

A witness, Joshua James, said he was driving nearby with his wife and young son when he saw the tail of the helicopter swaying back and forth as it slid to a stop. He put his car in reverse.

"It makes no sense to me that it didn't hit any of the wires or anything - that it didn't hit us," James told the Associated Press.

WPVI spoke with residents on the block who said the helicopter was several feet from their homes before it crash-landed.

"The noise was so loud I thought it was a bomb. It was crazy, not a sound I've ever heard before," said Lisa Smith.

Neighbors then flooded the streets.

"I ran out down the street, there were flames and people climbing out from the top of the helicopter," said Denise Palmarino, who's lived in Drexel Hill for 20 years.

Everyone is praising the pilot, who was in a very tough spot. There are a lot of homes, a busy road, schools, and businesses surrounding the scene of the crash.

"I can't wait to meet this gentleman and shake his hand for getting this (helicopter down) the way he did," said Bernhardt.

Emma Gray, an Upper Darby High School senior, was traveling in a Lyft vehicle when she heard the crash nearby.

"We heard this big boom. All of a sudden there was a bunch of glass and flaming debris on the road. Then there was a helicopter and part of it was on fire," she recalled.

Gray said she and her Lyft driver got out to help.

"These guys started coming out of it and they're like, 'Someone come help us, there's someone trapped underneath.' They were like, 'here take this,' to my Lyft driver, and it was a baby," recalled Gray.

Laura Mellon captured these images of the aftermath of a helicopter crash that injured three people including an infant in Drexel Hill, Pa. on Jan. 11, 2022.

Gray said she did her best to calm the pilot.

"I was able to kneel down beside him and say like, 'Hey man, I called 911, help is in the way," said Gray.

A statement from WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital on Tuesday said "...earlier today a LifeNet medical helicopter based out of Hagerstown, Md. That flight subsequently crashed on the way to Philadelphia. Our hearts go out to family and crew on board and we are grateful that early reports indicate the patient and crew survived and that the patient was transported on to the planned hospital by ground transport."

A fire official said the helicopter had about an hour's worth of fuel left at the time of the crash, and crews took steps to keep leaking fuel from contaminating groundwater.

A spokesman for Air Methods, the air medical emergency transport service that owns the helicopter, said it was part of the LifeNet program based in Hagerstown, Maryland. Federal agencies were investigating.

"Our team will cooperate fully with their efforts to assess the cause of this unfortunate accident," said Air Methods spokesman Doug Flanders.

The cause of this crash remains under investigation.