U.S. Park Police Helicopter Crew Recounts Navy Yard Roof Rescue

Aviation unit commander decided what he wanted to do one day while watching 1982 Air Florida crash rescue

The members of the U.S. Park Police Aviation Unit helicopter crew sent to the Washington Navy Yard to lift a shooting victim out of harm’s way Monday aren’t comfortable being called heroes, saying they simply did what they are trained to do.

But the most dangerous mission for a medevac helicopter is to hover and hoist an injured patient. Add to that they were flying while rain was pouring down and a gunman was on the loose.

The Park Police helicopter Eagle 1 removed the woman wounded in the shoulder from the roof of Building 197 while police on the ground searched for the shooter inside.

"I found her to be a remarkable woman who showed a tremendous amount of bravery considering what she had just been through,” rescue technician Sgt. Dave Tolson said.

The crew put the danger out of mind as they hoisted the wounded woman into Eagle 1 and flew her to the hospital for treatment, Tolson said.

"Active shooter was definitely part of our thought process,” said Sgt. Ken Burchell, the pilot in command. “We were well aware that we were a big, fat, blue and white target."

Under the best conditions, the crew has just 5 minutes of hover time, but in an active shooter situation, it could become a target.

“But we also knew we had to get in there, so you kind of have to push that aside and just get the job done,” Burchell said.

Another rescue technician on Eagle 1 was armed.

“In case the active shooter decided to pop up on the roof and if possible need be return fire,” Officer Michael Abate said.

As they transported the wounded woman to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where she is recovering after surgery Monday, Eagle 3 flew support missions patrolling the skies over the Navy Yard, helping police on the ground with command and control.

Eagle 1 returned to rescue the three men who had carried the wounded woman to the roof, taking them back to the Eagle’s nest: The headquarters of the U.S. Park Police Aviation Unit right across the Anacostia River from the Navy Yard. Its flag flies at half-staff in honor of those killed.

“I can tell you this is the first time I’ve been in an active shooter scenario where I’ve rescued someone from the top of a building,” Tolson said. “It was definitely one of the more satisfying moments of my career.”

It's what the Park Police medevac unit has been doing for 40 years: At the crash site of Air Florida in 1982, the shooting of two U.S. Capitol Police officers in 1998 and the Pentagon after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

The current commander of the unit was just 16 years old when Air Florida Flight 90 crashed. He watched the rescue on TV.

“I saw the aviation unit on TV and I said, ‘I’d love to do that one day,’” Lt. Simeon Klebaner said.

He praised his team.

“The amount of coordination, and the amount of training and the amount of guts that it took to carry out those missions, I’m very incredibly proud my team did an A-plus job,” Klebaner said.

The crew said they only wish there had been more survivors to transport for treatment.


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