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Crash injures Clinton pilot

A Clinton man who spends his days saving others by flying them to the critical care at Harborview Medical Center became a patient at the hospital Sunday morning after his medical evacuation helicopter crashed north of Everett.

Helicopter pilot Steve Smith, 54, was listed in serious but stable condition at Harborview Tuesday morning, two days after his helicopter crashed near the community of Baring on U.S. 2, five miles east of Index just inside the King County line.

In the crash, Smith sustained abdominal, chest, leg, rib, spine and aorta injuries and a broken back.

Smith, who is married to Norma Smith, one of three Republican candidates running for 2nd Congressional District Rep. Rick Larsen’s seat this year, is a pilot for Airlift Northwest, a medical transport company that moves critical patients to hospitals and trauma units around the Puget Sound area.

The night before the crash, Smith and two nurses responded to an emergency call to provide transport for an injured skier near Stevens Pass. While transporting the patient, Smith landed the helicopter short of the hospital due to adverse weather. According to Toni Long, the associate director of Airlift Northwest, Smith opted to land when the rotor blades began to ice up. An ambulance later picked up the skier and the two nurses. Smith spent the night with the King County Fire Department in Skykomish.

Smith returned to his helicopter Sunday at about 7 a.m. to fly it back to Arlington. Shortly after lifting off the ground in the Agusta A-109 Mark II helicopter, Smith began experiencing engine trouble. The helicopter crashed at 7:25 a.m. when both engines failed.

Smith attempted an emergency landing after the first engine failure. The second engine failed before he could set down. Long said the helicopter crashed into a back yard just 50 feet from a house.

Long said her company could in no way fault Smith for the crash.

“Smith did the right thing when he made the decision to stay overnight,” she said. “Officials do not have a cause for the crash yet, but the FAA has removed the helicopter from the crash site and is investigating.”

“Safety is our number one priority. It doesn’t do any good to pick up compromised patients with unsafe helicopters, which is why the pilot spent the night. He felt it wasn’t safe due to weather. He did the right thing,” Long said.

After the crash, medics treated Smith at the Gold Bar Fire Station, loaded him aboard aboard another rescue helicopter bound for Harborview. No one else on board at the time of the crash.

According to a spokesman for Harborview Medical Center, Smith’s condition was upgraded from critical to serious Sunday night.

A helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, Smith has flown for Airlift Northwest for 17 years and flew out of the company’s Arlington base.

Smith’s helicopter underwent its 300 hour regular scheduled maintenance three weeks ago. The helicopters undergo maintenance at 150, 300, 600, 1200 hours and at 2400 hours.

Airlift Northwest was founded in 1982 as a not-for-profit service to patients of the following medical centers: Childrens Hospital, Harborview and the University of Washington. Associate members include Bartlett Hospital, St. Joseph and Virginia Mason Medical Center. Airlift Northwest flies four twin engine helicopters and four fixed-wing airplanes from bases in Bellingham, Arlington, Seattle and Puyallup. The helicopters are 15-18 years old.

The company has been providing helicopter service since 1985 and contracts with CJ Systems Aviation Group from West Miffin, Penn. for its aircraft, pilots and mechanics. According to Long, CJ Systems provides the same service for 25 other emergency rescue units and Airlift has had a contract with them since May 1, 2000.

In 1995 an Airlift Northwest helicopter of the same model Smith was flying Sunday crashed in Puget Sound near Bainbridge Island, killing the pilot and two nurses on board. Long said the The National Transportation Safety Board reported the crash was caused when the pilot failed to maintain altitude.

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