The Stormy Night An EMS Helicopter Departed Ellsworth & Crashed In Portland
I really couldn't believe my eyes. I remember saying to myself, "they're flying in this?"
27 years ago last night, on November 19th, 1993, I stood in the midst of the driving rain and wind on Bridge Hill in Ellsworth and watched through the trees as a very low flying helicopter made it's way over the Union River Bridge and flew down the river and out of town.
It was the early evening and all I could see of the colorful helicopter were it's lights through the trees and the rain, but I could hear the sound of it's hard working engine as it made it's way out of Ellsworth and through the wind while following the Union River out to the Gulf of Maine.
Within two hours later, the helicopter that had departed Maine Coast Memorial Hospital and carrying a pilot, a flight nurse, a paramedic, and a man from Hancock County who had suffered third-degree burns from a brush fire, crashed into the 47 degree waters of Casco Bay just shy of Portland.
Nurse Matthew Jeton, 25, paramedic Don MacIntyre, 48, and patient Douglas Fernald, 70, all perished. The pilot, Sean Rafter, was found alive the following day suffering from hypothermia, an ankle injury and a broken finger, on Vaill Island about 4 miles off the coast, after spending most of the night clinging to debris.
The pilot told rescuers that day that the engine had failed, and that after the helicopter crashed into the water it's flotation devices had inflated, but a strong wind flipped the craft over. He made his way to the top of wreckage, but a large wave eventually smashed into it, braking off both the pontoons and the tail section.
We thank all of those who work in Emergency Medical Services here in Maine everyday. Those who are willing to go through hell and high water to save a life.