- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

A Southeast man aboard the MedStar helicopter that crashed near Washington Hospital Center earlier this week died from injuries he sustained in the accident, the D.C. medical examiner said.

Beverly Fields, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said Steven Gaston died of “blunt impact torso trauma” and that the cause of his death was listed as an “accident.”

Hospital officials maintained yesterday that the crash contributed to Mr. Gaston’s death. Mr. Gaston, 51, was one of four persons aboard the helicopter when it crashed on a golf course at the Armed Forces Retirement Home Tuesday afternoon.

“While we respect the authority and jurisdiction of the medical examiner, we stand by our original position that the crash was a contributing factor in his death,” said Paula Faria, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Mr. Gaston was already in “extremely critical” condition when the helicopter was taking him from Greater Southeast Community Hospital to Washington Hospital Center. Hospital officials had said there was “grave concern that [Mr. Gaston] would not live through the day, and this was before the incident.”

Mr. Gaston was immediately taken from the crash site to the operating room at Washington Hospital Center and then moved to the intensive care unit, where he was pronounced dead at 11:35 p.m. Tuesday. His family was with him, a hospital spokesman said.

Flight nurse Nancy Vanderweele, 39, and flight paramedic David Martin, 33, were upgraded to good condition yesterday. The pilot, Darryl Johnson, 58, remains in serious but stable condition.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday the helicopter wreckage was moved to a facility at Tipton Airfield at Fort Meade, Md., where a detailed examination of the airframe and components will be conducted over the next few days.

Brian Rayner, NTSB investigator-in-charge, interviewed Miss Vanderweele and Mr. Martin on Wednesday. He will interview Mr. Johnson when his medical condition permits.

Mr. Martin told investigators that Mr. Johnson made two approaches to the upper landing pad at Washington Hospital Center, and was maneuvering for a landing at the lower landing pad when the accident happened.

In the investigation, which could take several months to complete, the NTSB will review Mr. Johnson’s training and experience, the maintenance records of the helicopter and air traffic at the time of the crash.

Mr. Johnson, an employee of Pittsburgh-based C.J. Systems Aviation Group, has flown for 38 years.

C.J. Systems said the Eurocopter helicopter is one of the safest and most reliable medevacs in the industry. The one that crashed Tuesday was built in 1998 and had more than 3,000 flight hours on it.

MedStar resumed full operations at its four bases yesterday.

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