Enloe grieves death of FlightCare pilot

Employees at Enloe Medical Center are grieving this week, following the death Saturday night of a pilot in the crash of the hospital’s FlightCare helicopter.

The chopper plunged to the ground at Butte Meadows at 8 p.m. Sept. 22, killing pilot Ron Jones and injuring nurses Stacie Reed and Mike Ferris. Sources at the hospital say Jones’ death, following the tragedies on the East Coast, has caused much sadness among employees. As one nurse put it, “They’re in a New York state of mind right now.”

The cause of the crash has yet to be officially determined, although Enloe officials are blaming poor visibility due to dust at the landing site.

Jones, who was 54, certainly wasn’t lacking in experience. The Vietnam veteran had been flying for Enloe for 10 years and had more than 16,000 flight hours under his belt. A lifelong Chicoan, Jones was gifted on the friendship front, as well: Besides his colleagues, many friends are also grieving his loss, as are his wife, Ona, his daughter, two stepsons and two grandchildren.

Something went wrong as Jones was trying to land the helicopter—in a designated landing field—to rescue the victims of a single-car accident on Highway 32. While the Federal Aviation Administration is still investigating the crash, Enloe officials were quick to offer their theory.

“With this summer being particularly dry, dust at the landing zone apparently reached a new, dangerous level, which may have impeded a safe landing,” stated Marty Marshall, Enloe’s director of emergency services, in a press release. He said dust had never needed to be countered with water at that site before.

Linda Tucker, public-relations coordinator for Enloe, said witnesses saw a great deal of dust come up as Jones attempted to land.

She added that, in what seems to be a heroic last effort, the pilot shut off the flow of fuel, so the helicopter would be less likely to catch on fire on impact. “He must have known that crashing was inevitable,” Tucker said.

Ferris was released from the hospital this week, while Reed was upgraded from critical to serious condition with multiple fractures. As sad as Enloe employees were over Jones’ death, they were grateful that the two nurses survived.

Enloe is proud of FlightCare’s safety record. This is the first accident in its 16 years of operation, during which 8,000 patients were served. The team has seven pilots, six flight paramedics and 13 flight nurses. The helicopter was operating under visual flight rules, meaning non-instrument.

The two people involved in the auto wreck, in which police reported a car going 60 to 70 miles per hour missed a curve and hit a tree, are doing well. Driver Nathan Drury, 23, whose license had been suspended, walked away from the accident to seek his own medical care, and 18-year-old Sarah Embleton was in fair condition with minor scrapes and bruises.

Enloe plans to buy or lease a new helicopter. Redding’s Mercy Air has been responding to calls in the meantime, and Enloe has contracted with Reach Air Ambulance of Santa Rosa to provide a craft and crew to fly out of the hospital for now.