July 23, 2019
Dutchess plane crash: Unlikely helicopter rescuers 'felt like we were there for a reason'
Kneeling inside the cockpit of the wrecked plane, the temperature felt like it was 120 degrees, Nicholas Pacifico said.

He was attempting to stabilize the neck and body of the 50-year-old pilot, David Scott, who had crashed into a wooded area of Wappinger with his family on board. Scott was bleeding, and unconscious. His daughter, Jocelyn, had just told Pacifico that she couldn’t move her legs. She watched as Pacifico held her father.

“I just try and comfort the daughter and have a conversation,” said Pacifico, who, along with his helicopter crew, located the Scott family Friday. “I ask what her name is and she asked what my name was. I asked her age and if she’s going to college, stuff like that to make conversation to get her mind off what just happened because, you know, it’s stuff you see in the movies but when you see it in person, it’s just completely different."

Outside the plane, Thomas Lewis stood with David Scott’s wife, Tara, and their son, Ryan, while they waited for emergency medical assistance to arrive.

This was supposed to be an uneventful Friday. And Pacifico and Lewis were not supposed to be playing the role of de facto first responders.

They’re helicopter mechanics, who were about 10 minutes away from the end of their day when Hudson Valley Regional Airport received a distress call and requested their help. In fact, they may have already been able to head home, except the start of their final test flight was delayed.

"I felt like we were there for a reason," Pacifico said. "We were meant to go on that test flight at that time because we were supposed to go earlier but we had to wait for the pilot to come in. So, it was just the right place at the right time."

Together, Pacifico, Lewis and pilot Mike Wright located the crash and directed first responders to reach the family through dense vegetation that hid the plane. The four victims were all taken to local hospitals and are “focusing on recovery," according to Lt. Shawn Castano of the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office.

"Everything is kind of like a blur as soon as we jumped out of the aircraft, for the most part," said Lewis, a 35-year-old Hopewell Junction resident. "We just started running and from that point on, I don't know. It was a lot."

The trio work for the Wappingers Falls-based Associated Aircraft Group, an “executive helicopter company,” owned by the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

"We are not a search and rescue company, we have helicopters that we rent out," Pacifico said. "We are basically business helicopters for wealthy people if they want to commute and take a helicopter, we will provide that helicopter service for them."

However, each man was able to lean on previous training. Pacifico is a six-year Air Force veteran, serving two tours in Afghanistan. Lewis was a former New Hackensack volunteer firefighter. And Wright spent 21 years in the Army, flying more than 4,000 hours in combat operations, as well as search and rescue missions and combat operations as a military contractor after retirement.

“Collectively, there’s a lot of experience there,” said Eric Schnaible, spokesperson for Sikorsky. “We’re proud of our AAG aircrew and maintainers. Their support of the Hudson Valley community and their experience were able to assist local authorities following the mishap on Friday.”

The final “ground run” of the day for the helicopter crew at Hudson Valley Regional Airport was supposed to be a hover test. The trio began it around 2:30 p.m.

"That's when they asked us if we could put (the helicopter) down because an aircraft had put in an emergency landing (call)," Lewis said. "We put it down. Probably two minutes after that is when they got the call that the aircraft went down."

Someone in the control tower at the airport asked Wright if they could help search for the plane. First responders were unable to find the plane, as it was not giving off smoke in the middle of the woods. Pacifico said the pilot didn't hesitate.

"We take off, and we start circling the woods, the area where we think they may have crashed," Pacifico said. "We are looking for them and maybe 10 minutes goes by and I see a woman in a blue shirt waving her arms. She’s in the middle of the woods. I’m like 'Okay, that’s weird.'"

The scene, he said, was “straight out of a movie.” Pieces of the white aircraft were scattered on the ground and in the trees.

Wright landed about 200 yards from the crash site — less than two miles from the airport — and let Lewis and Pacifico out. Wright elevated again and hovered over the crash to guide them to the spot.

The mechanics ran through heavy brush and grass that they said was about seven feet tall, following the sound of the helicopter. They found Tara Scott speaking to her family inside the plane. Its wings were ripped off and wedged against a tree at a 45-degree angle, Pacifico said.

"I stick my head in the airplane and what I see was pretty horrific," Pacifico said. "I see blood, I see two males in the cockpit, one was laying on another and it turns out it was the father laying on the son. The son was holding his father. Out of the corner of my eye, I see another body in the cabin and it was the daughter. As I see her, she is staring at me."

“I’ve had a lot of training in self-aid, first-aid and stuff like that," Pacifico said. "I knew the most important things to do was to immobilize the neck and back as much as I could, keep pressure on the bleeding... I didn’t want to move either of them because if they broke their back or broke their neck, if you move them then you can do more harm. That’s why I waited for professionals to arrive."

Meanwhile, Wright had flown off to direct responders to the site.

After around 30 minutes, Pacifico said emergency medical technicians arrived. He helped them remove Jocelyn, putting her in a neck brace and onto a backboard. He returned to the plane to help remove David, after firefighters used a chainsaw to remove a tree blocking the door of the plane to safely remove him.

"It was really hot that day and you’re stuck in this tube with body heat in the sun," Pacifico said. The high in Poughkeepsie was 93 degrees Friday, according to the National Weather Service in Albany, with a heat index of 103. " I think that took a toll on the pilot too, with that heat, being unconscious and everything. It wasn’t good."

See the complete article here.

Ryan Santistevan: rsantistev@poughkeepsiejournal.com; 845-437-4809; Twitter: @NewsByRyan_. Katelyn Cordero: kcordero@poughkeepsiejournal.com; 845-437-4870; Twitter: @KatelynCordero.

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