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Help From On High

"Thank you, sir," Clark said as Vota read off the last item.

"DHART 1, DHART Comm," Clark radioed to Pippy, 30 feet away inside the dispatch room—"Comm" being shorthand for communications.

"Go ahead, DHART 1," Pippy replied, watching the helicopter through dispatch's big plate-glass window.

"We are three onboard, two hours of fuel," Clark added.

"DHART Comm, DHART 1," Pippy responded. "You are number 410, clear at 15:48."

"Thank you, sir," Clark acknowledged.

Through their helmets and seats, the crew could both hear and feel the two powerful Pratt and Whitney engines revving as Clark gently pulled up on the collective—the flight lever. The Eurocopter rocked slightly on its white metal landing skids as they parted from the tarmac. The rotor wash sent the puddles swirling in ragged arcs away from the aircraft as it slowly lifted off the helipad. Leaves on nearby trees and grass around the pad shuddered in the torrent of wind and water thrown their way. Clark used the 150-foot-tall smokestack on the DHMC power plant to guide the helicopter on its ascent. Then he eased its nose to the left, dipping it slightly, and headed off to the southwest. The sky was still dark and filled with gray clouds, but a shaft of late-afternoon sun suddenly broke through and lit up the hills in front of them. The Eurocopter swept across the Connecticut River in no time flat.

In less than five minutes, they were closing in on the site of the accident—easily a 20-minute drive from DHMC. Clark, who by then had his radio keyed to the incident commander's frequency, was already talking to the ground coordinator to get landing instructions. The crew could see two lines of unmoving traffic in the northbound lanes, stretching more than a mile to the south.

The accident site suddenly came into view as Clark banked and swung the helicopter around a cluster of conifers and maples. Multiple emergency vehicles ringed the scene—State Police cars, the Windsor ambulance, Hartland and Windsor fire engines, and rescue trucks. Amid the flashing blue, white, and red lights, the crew on DHART 1 could see the late-model blue pickup on its left side

Nurse Tracy Webster, on a scene call.

Vota climbed into the aft-facing seat, then clicked the buckle on the fourpoint shoulder-lapbelt and snugged it tight. Next, he plugged a black cord dangling from his helmet into the so-called Carter box—a device connected to the aircraft's communication system.

in the ravine. Clark radioed the crew, asking for the landing checklist. Calmly, Vota read down the list. "Check," Clark responded after each item. He slowed the descent of the helicopter as it slipped over the last of the emergency vehicles. The whine of the rotors changed to a louder, almost metallic "whup, whup," vibrating the whole compartment. Looking out their respective sides of the aircraft, Vota and Rylander confirmed to Clark that both areas were clear.

Clark touched down on the highway 70 yards beyond a parked state police car and radioed Pippy: "DHART 1 has landed."

"On scene at 15:55," Pippy radioed back.

Once the rotors had slowed to a near-stop, Vota and Rylander both radioed Clark—"Going off mike," they said—then doffed their helmets. Jumping quickly out of their respective side doors, they met at the rear of the helicopter. Rylander ducked underneath the tail extension and unsnapped two recessed clasps, swinging the bowed clamshell doors down and away fromthe aircraft. Vota helped him slide out the gurney, its legs snapping into place before its wheels hit the tarmac. Strapped to its top was a vital signs meter called a Propac and an oxygen tank snug in a greenand- black canvas sleeve. Clark, too, had by then stepped out of the compartment, carrying a portable radio so the crew could stay in touch with DHART Comm to keep Pippy apprised of their status.

As they rolled the gurney toward the scene, the DHART crewmembers glanced at the stretch of mangled guardrail. They'd seen such sights many times before, but

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