CHATHAM PORT – The passenger of a helicopter that crashed at the end of Crow's Pond last Friday remained in critical condition early this week.
Pilot John Ryan, 48, of Scituate, and his passenger, Tyra Pacheco, 48, of Acushnet, were extricated from the wreckage at the edge of the tidal pond by rescue personnel shortly after the crash, which occurred around 12:45 p.m. Both were taken by ambulance to Hyannis, where Pacheco was airlifted to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Ryan was brought to Cape Cod Hospital. Both suffered serious multiple trauma injuries, but were conscious when rescue personnel arrived on the scene, according to Lt. Michael Anderson.
Pacheco, a photographer who was taking photos for a local real estate firm at the time of the crash, was in stable but critical condition, according to her husband, John. Most of the bones on the left side of her body were broken in the impact, he said, and she underwent surgery Saturday to repair many of them. She was scheduled for more surgery Tuesday to repair her broken neck and spine.
Pacheco was heavily sedated to relieve the pain and breathing with the assistance of a ventilator, due to her broken ribs, her husband said. Doctors did not think she would be paralyzed, however; he said when the sedation was lightened, she was able to respond.
“She is able to move her fingers and her toes, so they don't think there is any spinal cord damage,” he said. “That's a huge relief.”
John Pacheco said the couple's three children are “holding up remarkably well.” He thanked supporters and well-wishers as well as those who had contributed to a Go Fund Me page set up for Tyra by Christine Richards of Kinlin Grover Real Estate in Mashpee, one of her clients.
Police received a call for a helicopter down in the pond at 12:46 p.m., said Anderson. The four-person helicopter was found at the water's edge behind 204 and 208 Crow's Pond Rd. Anderson said the pilot did an excellent job landing the helicopter away from homes, partially in shallow water and partially on the marshgrass.
“Five more feet out and they're wet and they're under water,” he said.
Anderson said according to witnesses, the helicopter's engine sputtered before it went down. "They all said it was not a violent collision, more of a controlled forced landing," he said.
Federal Aviation Administration officials visited the scene of the crash on Saturday and the agency is investigating the accident, according to an email from Jim Peters of the FAA's Eastern Region office. Bob Gretz, a senior air safety investigator at the National Transportation Safety Board, said Tuesday that a preliminary accident report would be issued within 10 days of the crash.
The report is not likely to have much more than the basic facts of the case, he said, until investigators are able to examine the wreckage. “We're waiting for it to be recovered to see where it's going for storage,” he said.
Anderson said a salvage company from New Bedford hired by Ryan's insurance company was working on getting equipment into Crow's Pond to remove the wreckage. The operation was slated to happen Wednesday or Thursday, he said.
Along with examining the wreckage, Gretz said investigators will review the helicopter's maintenance records as well as the records of the pilot before putting together a final report. The process is likely to take about nine months, he said.
Deputy Fire Chief Peter Connick said because of the location of the helicopter, a four-seat Robinson R44, power tools could not be used to extricate the victims. Hand tools were instead used to cut them out of the vehicle. He said Pacheco was the more seriously injured of the two; because of the extent of her injuries, she was taken by the harbormaster boat to an ambulance at Ryder's Cove. Ryan was taken up the bank and across the lawn of 204 Crow's Pond Road to a waiting ambulance.
Eva Japowicz, who owns the home at 204 Crow's Pond Rd., was in her kitchen when she heard the motor of the helicopter, which she said is not uncommon. However, when she looked up she could see it coming down over the trees from a southerly direction.
“Lower, lower, then I heard a boom,” she said.
After calling 911 she went down to the water and could hear a woman moaning and a man reassuring her. Both were pinned inside the aircraft, she said.
Anderson said from eyewitness accounts, it appeared the chopper fell from a height of about 100 feet, just along the tree line above the coastal bank.
Ryan owns Ryan Rotors, Inc. of Scituate. According to the Ryan Rotors website, the company provides helicopter tours and aerial photography services. According to the website for Pacheco's photography business, Tyra Pacheco Photography, her work focuses on architectural, aerial and estate photography. She was working for a local real estate company at the time of the crash.
John Pacheco said his wife has been doing real estate photography for several years, after working for the New Bedford Standard Times taking real estate photos. He said she always flew with Ryan, and had been up with him as recently as the Wednesday before the crash.
“She trusted him immensely,” he said. “He's a great pilot.”
Ryan was discharged from Cape Cod Hospital Friday and taken to a Boston hospital. As of Tuesday his condition was unknown.
By Tuesday Pacheco's Go Fund Me page had raised $11,290.
“We're humbled and grateful for all the support,” John Pacheco said. “I'm sure once she realizes all the support that's happened she'll be humbled as well.”
Harbormaster Stuart Smith and his crew deployed a boom to contain any leaking fuel or oil while a Chatham Coast Guard vessel stood by just offshore. After the crash, Crow's Pond was temporarily closed to shellfishing as a precaution, according to Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson. On Tuesday he said there was a minimal sheen contained within the boom.
The pond will probably remain closed to shellfishing until the wreckage is removed and any possibility of spillage during removal has passed, according to Duncanson.