Summit County remembers Flight for Life hero Patrick Mahany’s service
Summit County residents remembered Patrick Mahany, a decorated Vietnam veteran and longtime Flight for Life pilot, throughout Saturday morning’s celebrations. A loud cheer erupted from Breckenridge’s Main Street as a wave of bikes following a “Flight for Life” sign whisked by during the town’s Fourth of July parade, followed by a solemn silence as an announcer read the details of Mahany’s years of service.
The 64-year-old pilot and beloved Silverthorne resident died in a fatal helicopter crash on Friday afternoon. The aircraft crashed within seconds of lifting off from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, sparking a large fire in a parking lot just west of the hospital involving three parked vehicles.
“Patrick is quite readily the heart and soul of Flight for Life and has been all of the years I’ve known him,” former Flight for Life paramedic Kevin Kelble said the morning of July 4, heartbroken.
While a flight paramedic and nurse were evacuated from the downed Flight for Life helicopter, Mahany died at the scene. Neither of the victims’ names were released, but one is in stable condition and the other is in critical condition, according to a statement by Air Methods, the operator of Flight for Life.
Mahany had served as a pilot with Flight for Life since 1987. Colorado’s Flight for Life patch, a winged heart above purple mountains, spread across Facebook as residents shared stories of life-saving encounters with Mahany and other pilots.
“He was amongst the best pilots in the business. The simple fact that they were able to get everyone out is true testament to that,” Colin Goetz wrote on Facebook. “Pat, you are the reason so many inhabit the earth. For without your skills at the controls many would not have survived the incident.”
“Oh Patrick, Oh Patrick, Oh Patrick, a pilot and friend I have and will always look up to,” wrote Ann Beauchamp. “Our prayers go out to your family and Flight For Life, along with a speedy recovery for the flight nurse and paramedic.”
Mahany is succeeded by his wife, Karen, as well as his two daughters, his son and grandchildren. Prior to his work with Flight for Life, he was decorated with a purple heart and a bronze star from his service as a scout helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. Following in the footsteps of his father, Ryan Mahany was honored with an Army Air Medal of Valor in 2009 for rescuing the crew of a downed helicopter during his service in Afghanistan.
“Once you meet him you never forget him. … He was larger than life, an incredible man. When I saw the news yesterday it just devastated me,” said Jeff Baldwin, a childhood friend of Ryan’s who knew Patrick Mahany as his soccer coach. “I really remember Patrick just being full of energy. … I think he carried that through in other parts of his life.”
Air Methods released a statement on Friday following the crash.
“We are deeply saddened by the news that our pilot was fatally injured, and our hearts go out to the pilot’s family,” communications director Christina Brodsly wrote in a statement.
Air Methods confirmed the downed helicopter was an Airbus AS350 B3e, matching the model of a new helicopter that Flight for Life dedicated in October of 2014. No patients were on the helicopter at the time of the crash.
“The helicopter was an operated EMS helicopter flight repositioning for a purpose we did not know yet,” Jennifer Rodi, senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a press conference Friday night. “We understand that shortly after departure, the helicopter started to spin, or rotate, and subsequently impacted the ground.”
While NTSB will lead the investigation of Friday’s incident, representatives from Air Methods, Airbus, agent manufacturer Turbomeca, and the Federal Aviation Administration will assist with fact-finding. Investigators from France may also fly out, as the helicopter was French-manufactured. Rodi said the on-scene investigation would last through Sunday, but the full investigation could take at least 10 months.
“If we find any mechanical anomalies we don’t want to rush; we want to make sure we have documented them accurately as they have the potential to affect other aircraft being operated,” Rodi said.
In the meantime, Colorado residents continue to remember Mahany’s service and celebrate his life.
“Pat was such a patriot too. This is a good day to celebrate his life,” Baldwin added. “This is kind of what he stood for; he was a veteran and a hell of a patriot.”
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