ELKO, NEVADA – A medical transport plane crashed into the parking lot of Barrick Gold Corp. On the Mountain City highway Friday night, killing the patient and three crew members.
The accident caused multiple explosions and sent flames near a casino, a motel, a grocery store and a residential complex for the elderly.
Dr. Rodney Badger of Northeastern Nevada Cardiology said the American Medflight plane had just taken off from Elko Regional Airport with a heart patient who was being transported to the University of Utah Medical Center.
Allen Kenitzer of the FAA Office of Communications stated the Piper PA 31 aircraft crashed under unknown circumstances with four people on board. He said there were no injuries on the ground.
“We are devastated by this event and wish we had answers to the many questions being asked at this time,” said a statement from American Medflight.
The airport is located across the highway from the Barrick lot, one of several used by miners who are bused to and from the region’s gold mines.
Elko police Lt. Rich Genseal said authorities assume the crash occurred as the plane was taking off.
“There was not a lot left of the aircraft,” Elko Fire Chief Matt Griego said after the flames were extinguished.
“As an air medical family, we are mourning the loss of our crewmembers and patient,” said the statement from John Burruel, president and CEO of Nevada-based American Medflight Inc. “Their families have been notified and they are in our thoughts and prayers. Our priority at this time is to look after the well being of the affected family members and their co-workers and to be responsive to their needs.”
Badger said his patient suffered from coronary artery disease and was experiencing chest pains and rapid heartbeat around 5:30 p.m., after which the decision was made to transport him to Utah.
Emergency crews were called around 7:30 p.m. and began blocking traffic from the highway and side streets.
Witnesses in the Smith’s shopping mall described a loud bang and felt the explosion as far away as Starbucks. Smoke could be seen from Smith’s parking lot.
Loud explosions were followed by a series of smaller ones as firefighters sprayed water on the flames and called in foam trucks.
The crash occurred on the northeast side of the parking lot, which is next to Hampton Inn, Smith’s Food & Drug, Gold Dust West casino, and an apartment complex for senior and disabled residents.
Elko City Councilman John Patrick Rice said several cars were destroyed or damaged.
The accident occurred between mining shifts, so it is unlikely anyone was in the parking lot when the crash occurred. Barrick buses en route from mines were directed to another company parking lot west of town.
The flames were contained about an hour after the crash but no one was allowed near the scene.
Kenitzer said the FAA and the NTSB will investigate.
American Medflight’s website states it is “the largest, most experienced fixed-wing air ambulance company in Nevada and Eastern California.” The company says it has transported 10,000 patients over hundreds of thousands of miles over the Western United States.
The company returned to Elko in 2014 after a six-year absence.
“Each American Medflight flight crew includes a pilot with a minimum of 4,000 hours of flight time, as well as a highly experienced flight nurse and paramedic,” according to the company.