On the 15th anniversary of a medical helicopter crash near Mancos, family members and friends of the rescue team reflected on the legacy of the three men who were aboard the aircraft.
The crew members, who were based at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, were on their way to the scene of a logging accident June 30, 2005, when the Tri-State CareFlight helicopter fell to the ground. The crash killed all three – pilot Jim Saler, 40; paramedic and firefighter Scott Hyslop, 33; and flight nurse Bill Podmayer Jr., 49, all of Durango.
Saler was a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, and Podmayer worked in the emergency room at Mercy before becoming a flight nurse. Hyslop was with Durango Fire & Rescue.
“People remember him as a hero,” said Elizabeth Ceilley, who was married to Hyslop.
He loved being in a helicopter, gazing at the scenery below, Ceilley said.
Scott Sholes, EMS chief for Durango Fire, said he connected with Hyslop on a personal level shortly after starting to work with him. Hyslop had cystic fibrosis, a disease that produces a wall of mucus in the lungs and inhibits the pancreas from working properly. But he was the first fully certified firefighter with cystic fibrosis in Durango, Sholes said.
“He was driven to overcome that and to be a strong athlete,” Sholes said. The pair would often go rock climbing together, and Hyslop didn’t let the cystic fibrosis stop him, Sholes said.
Sholes’ brother also has the disease.
“He reminded me of my brother,” Sholes said. “There was a bond with him.”
Firefighting was something Hyslop had to do, Sholes said. Ceilley also said that Hyslop was passionate about helping people.
“People who put other lives above their own are heroes, and we should appreciate them,” Ceilley said.
An investigation into the crash found the fuel injector malfunctioned, causing the engine to stop.
“It was a freak mechanical failure,” Ceilley said.
Sholes said Hyslop was interested in working for Tri-State CareFlight as soon as it started developing a base in Durango, but he told Hyslop not to do it. Sholes was skeptical of how solid the new helicopter EMS program would be because there is always a “huge learning curve” when a new startup is created, he said.
“But I don’t blame him, it was a program with a lot of potential,” Sholes said. Tri-State CareFlight had good resources and aircraft, and Saler was a solid pilot, Sholes said.
“It just happens with helicopter EMS – it’s a risk,” Sholes said.
Ceilley and Hyslop had a 5-month-old son named Dylan at the time of the crash, who is now 15 years old. They live in Fort Collins with Ceilley’s husband and her 10-year-old triplets.
“I believe I have more compassion than I had before suffering this loss, and a greater appreciation for life,” Ceilley said.
She works at the McKee Medical Center as a radiation oncologist, and the loss of her husband has given Ceilley even more compassion for cancer patients and their families, she said.
Her son has a “great appreciation for family,” and goes on trips every summer with Hyslop’s parents, Ceilley said.
“I hope what people take away from this is to live life to the fullest and to appreciate every day,” Ceilley said. “There might not be a tomorrow.”
Sholes also worked with Podmayer, the flight nurse aboard the aircraft.
“He was a character,” Sholes said.
A fantastic skier who “never missed a powder day,” Podmayer also loved to fly, and was good with patients, Sholes said.
“One thing they both shared was clinical expertise, and they were both good at what they did,” Sholes said. “Unfortunately, they gave their lives to it on a fairly routine call.”
Sholes said that helicopter medical care and rescue is a necessary service, and people who do the work are putting their lives on the line to serve others. The San Juan Regional Medical Center’s AirCare is a “strong program,” Sholes said.
Riding Hyslop’s bike Tuesday, Sholes said he thinks about those men all the time.
“It’s a strong story that needs to be remembered, for sure,” he said.