A medical plane crashed overnight, killing all five on board, including a young girl en route to a hospital, authorities said. A search helicopter found the wreckage early Monday.
Tracy Smith and her daughter, 15-month-old Lily Smith, were among those killed, said Peter Olson, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety. Lily was the patient, but it’s unknown why she was being taken to a hospital.
Police have not released the identities of the 56-year-old pilot, a 44-year-old male nurse and a 40-year-old female paramedic, pending notification of next of kin, Olson said.
The area where the plane went down is marked by rugged, mountainous terrain. There were reports of nearby thunderstorms earlier in the evening, but it wasn’t known if weather was a factor in the crash. The cause of the crash was under investigation.
Smith, a single mother, worked two jobs — at a golf course in the summer and as a ski instructor for the disabled in the winter, said William Riggles, who worked with her at Ski Apache. Everyone admired her commitment to her daughter, he said.
“She worked her tail off to make a life for that girl. She loved being a mom — that was her world,” said Riggles, also a ski instructor. “It’s hard to make a living and raise a kid, and everyone really respected her for that. She put a lot of energy into giving Lily the attention she needed.”
Smith had worked in Ruidoso since the late 1990s. Originally from Connecticut, she and her brother, who also lives in Ruidoso, grew up skiing and loved the sport.
“I just don’t know how this ever happens to someone so nice,” Riggles said, his voice cracking.
First accident of this sortThe King Air plane was owned by Las Cruces-area Southwest Medevac which, according to the company, has been in business since 1994 and never had a plane go down.
The company is a major provider of medical flights in southern New Mexico and Texas, and has 17 airplanes and helicopters registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.
“We’ve never had anything like this before and hope to never have again,” said Rob Campion, a Southwest Medevac spokesman. He said he could provide no information about the victims.
The twin-engine turboprop plane was a King Air E-90 built in 1975 by Beech Aircraft Co. and registered to Enchantment Aviation Inc. Federal accident databases showed no incident reports for the plane, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Les Dorr.
The plane left the Ruidoso Regional Airport about 10:40 p.m. Sunday on a flight to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. It crashed almost immediately in Devil’s Canyon in the Lincoln National Forest, Olson said.
The search began early Monday, and the plane was spotted about 5:15 a.m., Olson said,
New Mexico National Guard and state police helicopters helped locate the wreckage.