CAJON SUMMIT - A pall of sadness hung Monday afternoon over the site of a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of three Mercy Air crew members Sunday evening.
Photo Gallery:
Helicopter crashes in Cajon Pass

The crew members who died were pilot Paul G. LaTour, 46, of Apple Valley, nurse Katrina J. Kish, 42, of Moreno Valley, and paramedic Jerald W. Miller, 40, of Apple Valley, according to a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

"We knew them, and it's very hard on the whole firefighting community to have people lose their lives in such tragic circumstances," said Tim Wessel, North Desert division chief for county fire.

Wessel was incident commander Sunday night during the first response to the crash and subsequent brush fire.

"It was very difficult getting in here," Wessel said. "We got crews down over the side in a safe and timely manner. But we determined there were no survivors. . . . We let the fire burn itself out."

As the sun set Monday over San Gabriel Mountain peaks to the southwest, a group of family members and people who worked with

LaTour, Kish and Miller stood near the top of a knoll overlooking the crash site east of Cajon Summit.

Investigators spent most of Monday poring over wreckage at the crash site below. A blackened scar on the hillside, scattered with recognizable aircraft parts, marked where the helicopter known as Mercy Air 2 went down.

A federal review of the crash is just beginning, said Patrick H. Jones, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. Other investigators are en route from the District of Columbia, Texas, Alaska and Quebec, Jones said.

Jones and other investigators reached few conclusions about the cause of the crash on Monday.

"There was fog in the area at the time of this accident, but there was fog in the area most of the day," Jones said.

Mercy Air and the Sheriff's Department had other flights over the same area Sunday before the crash of Mercy Air 2, Jones said. The first rescuers on scene Sunday night estimated visibility in the area at one-eighth of a mile.

"The aircraft was equipped with a satellite tracking system," Jones said. "There were no distress reports made."

The wreckage was strewn below a metal power line tower, but the tower and power lines appeared to be intact, Jones said. There was no preliminary indication the lines or the tower played a role in the crash.

"My understanding is the pilot had been employed by Mercy Air for a year and a half, and before that he flew at Fort Irwin," Jones said. "To get to this level of rescue flying, pilots are usually better than average."

Craig Yale, vice president of corporate development for Air Methods, the Englewood, Colo., parent company of Mercy Air, said during a 10:30 a.m. news conference at the company's Rialto headquarters that LaTour was a former military pilot with 18 years and 3,000-plus hours of flight experience.

The crash occurred about 6 p.m. at the top of the Cajon Pass as the crew was returning to Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville from a patient dropoff at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

"Contact with the helicopter, a Bell 412, was lost at 5:55 p.m.," Yale said.

The helicopter was built in 1987 and put into service with Mercy Air after refurbishment in May 2004, Yale said.

Yale said authorities were notified by air traffic controllers four minutes after satellite tracking of the helicopter was lost.

"It's not unusual in the Cajon Pass to lose tracking for a few minutes," Yale said.

Kish's mother, Alice Bain, was contacted by phone at her home in Tustin on Monday afternoon. Bain said her daughter worked as a nurse at Loma Linda University Medical Center as well as for Mercy Air and had worked in airborne transport medical services for the county Sheriff's Department.

Bain said Kish is survived by a 9-year-old son.

David Justice, an Army aviation safety officer at Fort Irwin where LaTour spent years honing his flight skills and working as an instructor, said LaTour was a solid aviator.

Justice said LaTour retired earlier this year with the rank of chief warrant officer.

"He had a distinct personality," Justice said. "He was a guy who knew what right looked like, just a very strong-minded individual, the kind to make decisions quickly and surely."

Justice, 45, said he and LaTour spent time together riding dirt bikes in the desert and that LaTour was in top physical condition. That LaTour took a civilian job as an air transport pilot was no surprise, Justice said.

"He loved this area, and he loved to fly," Justice said.

Justice said LaTour was especially experienced in the terrain and atmospheric features of the High Desert.

"He could handle just about anything that got thrown at him," Justice said.

Air Methods Corp. has a fleet of 208 medical transport helicopters that average 85,000 transports and 100,000 flight hours per year, Yale said, making it the largest private provider of air medical transport services in the country.

The corporation has suffered four fatal crashes in the six years. In September of 2002, a helicopter crash killed three crew members near the 15 Freew

BS Ranch Perspective:

This is going to be short, because the NTSB does their report and Investigation of the crash. That can take up to 6 months to a year to get the final results. but the weather conditions in the Cajon Pass that evening was Foggy, and with that conditions the pilot might have gotten what is known as Vertigo. I don't know if you recall, but there was a Hitchcock movie named with that Title. Basically what happens when you get Vertigo, is that you loose all sense of direction. Up, Down, North, East, West, South In the pass when you fly up and down it every day it is very important to know where you are especially when you fly by sense of direction to get to the station that is located at the top of the grade. From the report was that he ran into the side of a hill, and Vertigo would be a good explanation for such a Collision!!

The tragedy for this crash is the loss of life. Not just the members to Mercy air, but the human life, and the families that were lost. The nurses, and loss of training that they had. the Pilot was an experienced Pilot to land such a job, he would have to have many hours to work for Mercy air, and the Doctor, and the Nurse. The Family Members that will go without a family Christmas this year, that really sucks, and well Mercy Air too, they will go without Christmas.

I almost hope that there was a mechanical failure of some kind, rather then a pilot error, of some kind. It might be better for the families, through the insurance etc etc..., what do I know. If Mercy Air had a Patient on board, just think of what the complications to the insurance pay out would have been. Prayers and prayers and more prayers, just for the families of Mercy Air and their employee's.

BS Ranch