SANTA FE, N.M. - The helicopter had just swooped in to rescue a stranded hiker in the rough mountains of New Mexico when nearby campers saw a flash of light, then heard a loud crash. Moments later, a dispatcher asked the pilot whether the three aboard were OK, and he radioed back: "Not really."
The sleek police copter, designed for just such high-altitude rescue missions, had smashed into the mountain, and the veteran pilot, his spotter and the hiker were thrown into the dark, frigid wilderness.
The spotter's right leg was crushed, his back injured. Soon, hypothermia set in. He hunkered down for the night inside the downed chopper with his pilot, Sgt. Andrew Tingwall, within earshot. Through the night, Tingwall and the spotter, Wesley Cox, alternately called out to each other.
When daybreak came yesterday, Cox, badly injured and uncertain where Tingwall was, decided he needed to hike out for help, broken bones and all. He walked several miles before finding help and rushed to a hospital with severe hypothermia.
Details of the harrowing ordeal emerged yesterday as authorities spent the day searching the mountains near the crash for signs of the pilot and the hiker. The helicopter had been summoned to help the hiker after she became separated from her boyfriend on the mountain.
Officials feared that Tingwall and the stranded hiker, Negumi Yamamoto, didn't survive.
"At this point, information would indicate that we do not have any more survivors," State Police Chief Faron Segotta said.
He said information about the crash and details of the frightening night on the mountain came from Cox, 29, who remained hospitalized with a back injury, possibly a fracture, and a "seriously crushed" right leg, according to the chief. He also said Cox has some internal bleeding.
"He is one tough kid," Segotta said.
Tingwall, of Santa Fe, had radioed in his last radio transmission Tuesday night that he had hit the mountain.
Yamamoto had been with her boyfriend on the mountain but they became separated, Olson said, and she used her cell phone to call for help Tuesday evening. The boyfriend was escorted to safety.
Tingwall is a 13-year veteran of the force. He was honored with the Officer of the Year award for his efforts during an August 2008 incident in Albuquerque in which he helped save a man from a flooded arroyo. *