ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A medical plane crashed en route to a hospital, killing all five on board, including a 15-month-old patient and her mother, authorities said Monday.
The plane left the Sierra Blanca Regional Airport late Sunday on a flight to University of New Mexico Hospital, and crashed almost immediately in Devil’s Canyon in the Lincoln National Forest, said Peter Olson, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety. A search helicopter found the wreckage early Monday.
Tracy Smith and her daughter, Lily Smith, were among those killed, Olson said. It’s unknown why Lily was being taken to a hospital.
Southwest Medevac identified its pilot as Ricky Byers, 56, of Dimmitt, Texas, who had worked for the company for a year. The other two killed in the crash were Brian Miller, a 44-year-old flight nurse from Roswell, N.M., who had worked for the service for 1 1/2 years, and Deanna Palmer, a 40-year-old paramedic from Prescott Valley, Ariz., who had been on the job one month.
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 whether the storms were a factor in the crash. The cause was under investigation.
Smith, a single mother, worked at a golf course in the summer and as a ski instructor for the disabled in the winter, said William Riggles, a co-worker 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.”
The King Air E-90 plane was owned by Las Cruces-area Southwest Medevac, which has been in business since 1994 and never had a plane go down, according to the company.