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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – An Aeromed helicopter on a training flight crashed atop Spectrum Health in downtown Grand Rapids, injuring the pilot and a passenger.
Richard Breon, the president and CEO of Spectrum Health said the pilot was a Vietnam veteran. He and the passenger, possibly an FAA official, are in stable condition at the hospital.
There is no word yet on why the 14-year-old helicopter crashed, and when it crashed it landed on its side.
At an early afternoon press conference, Grand Rapids Fire Chief John VanSolkema said, “There’s not a whole lot left, but you can tell it was a helicopter.”
At a 3:30 p.m. press conference, Spectrum Health officials Breon and Matt Van Vranken said all the patients who had been moved out have been returned to the hospital.
Most of the patients who were moved were transferred to different rooms inside the facility, though some were moved to the fieldhouse at Grand Rapids Community College. Approximately 75 patients were evacuated – about 25 per floor.
Breon added there were a few women in labor at the GRCC fieldhouse, but no one gave birth there.
Most of the damage sustained to the building is water damage, and the officials are working to get the helipad “back in service as soon as we can. It’s important not only to Grand Rapids, but to West Michigan,” said Van Vranken, the Spectrum Health president.
Spectrum Health owns three helicopters, one of which is decommissioned. The one that crashed Thursday is the oldest of the three.
When asked if the hospital would re-think the use of helicopters, Van Vranken said, “We’ve had over 12,000 flights in 21 years, and our pilots have, on average, 6,000 hours (of flight time.)” By and large, he said, helicopter transportation is extremely safe.
The pilot who crashed is their most experienced pilot.
Both were “extremely impressed” with the response to the accident. “You plan and train for these things,” Breon said, and later “you analyze what you can do better.” Overall, he said, “Our disaster planning is very, very strong.”
There is a meeting next week to review the response and make adjustments as necessary.
An official with the FAA in Chicago told 24 Hour News 8 the helicopter was practicing approaches – known as “touch and go” – when it crashed at 11:02 a.m.
Floors 7-9 — the pediatric floors of the hospital — were evacuated and patients were taken to different parts of the hospital. Any overflow patients would be taken to other Spectrum Health facilities.
Surgeries were closed, and the electricity was temporarily shut off for safety. There will be no surgery performed at the downtown Spectrum facility on Friday.
The Grand Rapids Fire Chief said almost the department followed their high-rise building disaster plans. The streets surrounding the hospital were closed for about an hour, but have since re-opened.
Witnesses said they saw the helicopter wobbling around just before the crash. Paul King saw the crash, and alerted hospital officials. Debris hit his van.
Both the FAA and the NTSB are investigating the crash. Breon and Van Vraken deferred causes for the crash to the government officials.
24 Hour News 8 will have more information as soon as possible.