Medical helicopter crashes in New Mexico

In this Thursday, July 17, 2014 photo provided by The Guadalupe County Communicator, New Mexico State Police personnel climb a rocky mesa to look at the wreckage of a medical transport helicopter that crashed early Thursday morning, July 17, 2014, several miles north of Newkirk, N.M. (AP Photo/M.E. Sprengelmeyer, the Guadalupe County Communicator)

NEWKIRK, N.M. (AP) — A medical helicopter flying to pick up a patient crashed into an eastern New Mexico mesa early Thursday, bursting into flames and killing all three crew members on board, authorities said.

The helicopter was flying from Santa Fe’s Christus St. Vincent Hospital to Tucumcari when it disappeared from radar and went down near Newkirk, located along Interstate 40 about 135 miles east of Albuquerque and about 30 miles from Tucumcari.

Ranch workers found the wreckage on the rocky, northern side of a flat-topped mesa about 3 miles north of Newkirk after authorities asked them to look around.

“It crashed and burned,” said Ranch manager Phil Bidigan. “No survivors …. Everything burned except for the very end of the tail.”

Hospital spokesman Arturo Delgado confirmed all three on board were killed. Their identities were not immediately released, but he said the CareFirst crew was well-known at the hospital.

“These crew members were our colleagues, our friends, and our neighbors,” the hospital said in statement. “Our hearts, and our prayers, go out to the loved ones of these extraordinary individuals, who were committed to saving lives every single day.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the cause of the crash was unknown. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.

Bullhead City, Arizona-based TriState CareFlight LLC owned and operated the helicopter, company marketing director John Cole confirmed. He said he was traveling to the crash scene and could not immediately comment further.

Bidigan said a law enforcement dispatcher called and woke him up to ask that he check on a possible crash.

The ranch manager said he and a ranch cowboy spotted the burning wreckage from about 100 yards away.

Bidigan said the cowboy told him he’d heard something that woke him up around 3 a.m. but went back to sleep because he didn’t know what it was.

“When he got up he could see the flames,” Bidigan said.

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