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Coast Guard begins investigation into helicopter crash

By Sarah Dallof | Posted - Mar. 4, 2010 at 6:30 p.m.



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WASATCH COUNTY -- A day after a Coast Guard helicopter crashed in the Utah mountains, investigators are on the ground. There is also word that the conditions of those who were injured are improving.

Cmdr. Patrick Shaw, the aircraft commander, was upgraded from critical to serious condition Thursday. Petty Officer Gina Panuzzi remains in critical condition, and Lt. Cmdr. Steven Cerveny is still listed as serious condition.

The other two Coast Guard members aboard the helicopter walked away with just minor injuries.

Medical staff at University Hospital couldn't talk about the crew members' specific injuries, but they were able to discuss treating plane and helicopter crash victims in general.

"What we usually see from motor vehicle crashes is a lot of blunt injury, meaning they come to a stop and either hit something; so internal organs are damaged, fractured bones things like that," explained Sharon Cartwright, who works at University Hospital.

The HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter went down Wednesday morning in Wasatch County. It was snowing, and visibility was very poor at the time of the crash, but there's no official cause yet.

The Coast Guard investigative crews arrived in the state Thursday afternoon. It's their job to figure out exactly what happened.

"The investigation team will have to make an assessment of the equipment. They have interviews to conduct. They have a physical site to review. It's a fairly long process," said Dan Dewell, spokesman for the 11th Coast Guard District.

The process won't be easy either; the crew can only drive so far. On Wednesday, the search and rescue teams rode snowmobiles about 15 miles to reach the site.

"That's the kind of thing that will be looked at in the initial survey, to see accessibility, landing sites for aircraft if we need to fly in people and equipment, that sort of thing," Dewell said.

At some point, an investigator or a public information officer with that team will be making some sort of statement. So far, however, there's no word on when that will occur.

The HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter was one of two traveling through the area after a security detail for the Vancouver Games, said Dewell said.

The helicopters made a refueling stop in Salt Lake City -- one of several required for the long trip -- and were headed to Leadville, Colo., before spending the night in Kansas City. They were expected to arrive back at their home base in Elizabeth City, N.C., Thursday.

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Story compiled with contributions from Sarah Dallof and The Associated Press.

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