Three dead in air ambulance crash

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— RAWLINS, Wyo. -- Three of four members of a Yampa Valley Air Ambulance crew died late Tuesday night when the plane crashed near Rawlins, Wyo., Yampa Valley Medical Center officials reported.

The plane, a 1978 Beech E-90 King Air turbo prop operated by Mountain Flight Service of Steamboat Springs, carried a pilot and three Yampa Valley Medical Center employees. Pilot Tim Benway, 35, was killed. Also killed were air ambulance director and flight nurse Dave Linner, 36, and flight nurse Jennifer Wells, 30.

Emergency Medical Technician Tim Baldwin, 35, survived the crash and was taken to Carbon County Hospital in Rawlins in critical condition. Baldwin was flown Wednesday morning to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.

The plane was en route to Rawlins, about 150 miles north of Steamboat, to transport a patient from Carbon County Hospital to Wyoming Medical Center in Casper when it went down around 9:40 p.m., Carbon County Sheriff Jerry Colson said. An ambulance crew waiting on the ground in Rawlins to load the patient, who had been injured in a car accident, reported the plane as overdue around 10:05 p.m.

Around the same time, Baldwin used a cell phone to notify emergency personnel that the plane had crashed.

Emergency officials mobilized to find the plane, but were faced with searching in heavy snow in wide-open sagebrush-covered terrain punctuated by draws and ridges. Their only clues to the plane's location were radar tracking of its flight course and the words of the person on the cell phone, who said he could hear a train whistle and sirens, according to the Rawlins Daily Times newspaper.

Agencies from all over the region were called in to assist with the search and rescue, including the Rawlins and Sinclair police departments; Rawlins Search and Rescue, the Carbon County, Rawlins, Hanna and Sinclair fire departments; the Bureau of Land Management, the Wyoming Highway Patrol; Rawlins Ambulance, Emergency Management, civilian volunteers, Red Cross and France Flying Service, according to a press release from the Carbon County Sheriff's Office.

More than a dozen people on four-wheelers were dispatched to search a grid pattern in hopes of finding the plane. Crews also used two mobile receivers to find signals from the plane's Emergency Locator Transmitter, which ultimately lead them to the crash site just before 2 a.m. The plane was found on the opposite side of Shark Tooth Ridge from the Rawlins Municipal Airport, about 3 1/2 miles northeast of the runway, according to the newspaper.

The location of the crash indicated that Benway, who reportedly was attempting to make an instrument landing, was on the correct flight path, but for unknown reasons went down too soon, according to the Daily Times.

"All of us at Yampa Valley Medical Center are deeply saddened and shocked at this tragic loss," said Karl Gills, CEO of Yampa Valley Medical Center. "All of those aboard are committed to providing extraordinary care to their sick and injured patients. Our entire organization and those who worked with the air ambulance program have been impacted."

Yampa Valley Medical Center provides the medical personnel for the air ambulance flights. Mountain Flight Service, owned and operated by Bob and Cindy Maddox, is contracted to operate the air ambulance. Mountain Flight Service is based at Steamboat Springs Airport--Bob Adams Field.

Bob Maddox said Benway had been with Mountain Flight Service for two years and had extensive flying experience with aircraft similar to the air ambulance.

Linner had been a flight nurse with the air ambulance since September 2001 and had directed the service since the spring of 2003. Wells had worked at YVMC since July and only recently joined the air ambulance crew.

Baldwin has been a member of the air ambulance crew since April.

It is not yet known what caused Tuesday's crash. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have been notified and are expected in Rawlins this afternoon. Rawlins residents said it was snowing heavily at the time the plane went down, but it is not known what impact the weather had.

This is the second time in less than two years that the Yampa Valley Air Ambulance has gone down. On March 19, 2003, the air ambulance crashed near Kremmling in an incident that was blamed on pilot error. The pilot was later terminated. The three people on the plane in that crash -- including Linner -- walked away with minor injuries.

The air ambulance was damaged in the 2003 crash and was replaced with a plane that was dedicated on May 18, 2003. The replacement plane was a 1978 Beech E-90 outfitted with emergency medical supplies and equipment for use in transporting patients.

--Dave Perry of the Rawlins Daily Times contributed to this report.

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