(Update: Adding video, comments from Michael McGarry)
Was hit with high wind when he landed; seeks community support in his journey of recovery
POWELL BUTTE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- “I do remember waking up, and the first thing I’m shouting is, ‘Are you guys okay? Tell me you guys are alive! Tell me you guys are alive! Please God, tell me you guys are alive!'" Michael McGarry said, reliving his first reactions in the hospital after a serious air ambulance crash last year.
On May 17th of 2022, the pilot, a Powell Butte resident, suffered serious injuries when he lost control of an AirLink helicopter that was hit by high winds as it landed to pick up a patient in Christmas Valley.
At the time, McGarry worked as a flight crew member for Med-Trans and was piloting the helicopter, with three registered nurses also onboard. Before the crash, they had just transferred a patient from Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls to St. Charles Bend.
After dropping off the patient and arriving in Christmas Valley, the helicopter was hit when he landed with very high winds, causing damage to the rotor and resulting in a disastrous crash.
"We were parked on the tarmac, ambulance was on our left, and it felt like we got rear-ended by something, like a vehicle," McGarry said.
"Just trying to maintain control of the helicopter was what was going through my mind," he recalled. "I didn't want anybody to die."
After being hospitalized with a concussion, a broken arm and fibula, three fractured ribs, three fractured vertebrae, a fractured femur and an exploded knee from the crash, the retired military veteran of 20 years, who also flew helicopters to help fight wildfires, says he is struggling to support his wife and six kids.
One of the helicopter's other three crew members, who declined to be interviewed, was also critically injured, suffering severe memory challenges.
"If anybody had died that day, living with that responsibility as a pilot would be pretty hard," McGarry said.
Although many of his injuries have improved, McGarry said his spinal condition is getting worse, and he's in need of treatment.
"They haven’t done anything for my back," McGarry said.
In August, McGarry was medically terminated from Med-Trans, losing major funding from workers compensation. Soon after, he said, he also got a major reduction in time-loss payments.
“So now we’re down almost $3,000, about $3,500 a month,' McGarry said. "I paid into a system that's supposed to help me out, and that system is failing."
Now, he's turned to the community for support. He’s currently seeking employment that would accommodate his injuries, allowing him to work from home.
There is also an online fundraising effort for the family.
As he works on the road to recovery, McGarry hopes he can get back to some outdoor adventures and feel a sense of normalcy again.
Here's the National Transportation Safety Board's final report on the Christmas Valley crash: