Nurse helps survivors of helicopter crash

Katie Kineally, front left, a nurse anesthetist from Oregon, poses with her daughter and son in front of a helicopter they took to see the Grand Canyon on Saturday. Kineally later spent several hours that day helping people after the helicopter they were in crashed in the canyon.

KATIE KINEALLY

After sneaking away from her mom’s 90th birthday party in Las Vegas to go on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon with her two children Saturday, Katie Kineally unexpectedly found herself putting her medical training to use when another helicopter crashed while they were walking in the area.

As smoke billowed up from a gulch below, Kineally, a nurse anesthetist from Oregon, rushed down to see how she could help.

“All of a sudden I saw people running to the edge of the cliff and I saw smoke billowing out,” Kineally said. “Shortly after, I heard these horrific screams and I knew I had to help.”

Kineally would spend the next several hours among other bystanders and emergency workers helping survivors.

The fiery crash killed three British tourists. The pilot and three other British tourists survived.

The survivors were covered in burns and some had broken or fractured bones and sat on cold, rock-covered ground not far from the burning crash site, she said.

Kineally said she and other bystanders with some medical training — including an oncology nurse, a veterinarian and members of the Australian Air Force — worked for hours alongside emergency crews. They administered pain medication, IV fluids and tried to keep the victims warm, all while some wondered or despaired about what had happened to the others on the flight.

“We just did what we could,” she said.

The helicopter crashed in a rugged and remote part of the Grand Canyon called Quartermaster Canyon on the Hualapai Indian reservation. Rescuers and medical personnel would have to be flown in or hike down to the crash site.

While emergency workers and the volunteers with medical training worked, other bystanders would come down to see what they could do, Kineally said. Some sacrificed their own warmth and gave up their clothing to help keep the survivors from getting hypothermia.

“People did all they could with all the skills they had, even if they didn’t have medical skills,” she said. “The real heroes were the victims that were down there for hours.”

It wasn’t until about 1:30 a.m. on Sunday that the last of the survivors was airlifted out, Kineally said. Windy conditions, darkness and the rugged terrain made it difficult to reach the helicopter’s wreckage.

After the bystanders had been airlifted to an airport, they were met by other emergency workers who had brought food, hot drinks and blankets for them to make sure they were OK, too, she said.

Kineally said the response to the crash shows people can still come together.

In Kineally’s case, she had to borrow her daughter’s tennis shoes to have better footwear for scrambling down to the site of the crash. “I didn’t think twice,” she said.

The three killed were on a long-planned trip together to celebrate a birthday. The dead have been identified as Becky Dobson, 27; her boyfriend, Stuart Hill, 30; and his brother, Jason Hill, 32. They had been staying in Las Vegas for the weekend.

The survivors were listed in critical condition at a Las Vegas hospital.

Federal authorities are investigating the crash.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Chris Aadland is a reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.