About Coconino County

About Coconino County

Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.

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A Mid-Air Collision

This was a code I had not expected to see on my pager: A "700" appeared on the little screen at about 4:30 p.m., and I quickly consulted my list to double-check. Sure enough, 700 means disaster response. I couldn't imagine what that would mean.

When I called in, the message stated that there had been a mid-air collision "in the area." Turns out, two medical transport helicopters, both on approach to the hospital here in downtown Flagstaff, had collided and crashed about a half-mile from their destination. Articles and photos from the Arizona Daily Sun can be found here:

Tragedy Over Flagstaff

UPDATE: Victims of midair medical copter collision ID'd, plus VIDEO of morning press conference

Radio transcripts detail emergency response

Amazingly, neither helicopter hit any nearby buildings or homes or anyone on the ground. It was a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon, so a number of people were out and about and witnessed the collision. A friend of mine who lives nearby said he heard the explosion, and he and other neighbors ran to see what had happened. The helicopters crashed on McMillan Mesa, right in the middle of town near popular Buffalo Park and the Flagstaff Urban Trail.

There were six fatalities in the crash and one survivor, a flight nurse currently in critical condition.

Search and rescue personnel were on scene shortly after the crash, and several of our more experienced members retrieved the flight recorders. One of these people said it's a visual he'll never forget.

SAR members from both ground and mounted units (without horses) have been taking shifts since 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 29, providing site security to keep media and civilians—anyone other than uniformed officers and other officials—out of the large crash site.

The crash and subsequent explosions of the Guardian helicopter also began a 10-acre wildfire. SAR volunteers working the southern perimeter of the crash site last night said they smelled fumes from the smoldering wreckage throughout their shift. Though the fire was basically out by Sunday evening, a SAR volunteer who was on scene this morning called me and said there were hot-spots flaring up nearby, so she reported it and firefighters were responding as she was speaking to me.

I was on scene from 5 p.m. yesterday till 1:00 this morning. Most of that time, I sat up on Cedar Hill on the north side of the crash. From my vantage point, I could see several police cars at road blocks in two locations, the smoldering wreckage of one of the helicopters, and people walking along Cedar Drive to watch from a distance. No one approached the portion of the police line that I was monitoring, but apparently the area closer to the neighborhood on the south side of the crash saw some activity, with local residents coming over to get a closer look. Below me, there was also activity near the site of the second helicopter, with multiple news agencies showing up throughout the evening.

After half a night's sleep and a late breakfast, I'm now standing by, waiting for another call-out for the next shift. I'm not sure how long SAR will be needed for site security. That will depend, I assume, on how long it takes to remove all the wreckage, if that's even begun yet.

I'll update soon.