Archive for Thursday, January 11, 2007

Helicopter crash causes quite a buzz

January 11, 2007

Ron Hughes is used to hearing helicopters fly over his farm east of Baldwin City. But, last Wednesday, the sound was different.

This was a smaller helicopter and something didn't sound right. It wasn't. A De Soto couple aboard the home-built copter had mechanical trouble and ended up crashing into Hughes' pasture, sending cattle running and emergency personnel searching. Jim Dohrman, the 45-year-old pilot, could laugh about it a week later.

"I didn't do it on purpose," said Dohrman, who has been a pilot for 20 years, but only took up flying helicopters a few years ago. "No, that was the first time I did that."

Dohrman suffered a broken leg and was taken to the University of Kansas Medical Center by, yes, a helicopter. His 47-year-old wife, Mia, wasn't hurt. It could have been much worse, he said.

"We could have been going to funerals this week, but instead we're fixing broken (helicopter) parts and drinking beer," he said.

For Hughes, who raises cattle on the 120 acres about three miles east of Baldwin City, the strange sounding helicopter turned into a good thing.

"It flew over and I said it sounded different," said Hughes. "I walked out of the shop and he was going by. I thought he was looking at real estate until all of the sudden my 30 cows came running up. They still won't go down there.

"I've seen life flight. I've seen car wrecks. In my early days, I worked as a fireman in Ottawa," he said. "I've seen a lot of trauma, but never have I been involved with a helicopter crashing in my back yard. That's a first."

The Dohrmans were returning to the Lawrence airport in the "Exec 162F" kit-built helicopter, valued at $67,000, after having lunch with friends in Paola. Dorhman said he heard a "bang" in the back of the copter as he was flying over Hughes' farm.

"It was tail-rotor failure and we auto-rotated down to the ground," said Dorhman. "That's a normal pilot function. It's something you do in emergencies."

As the helicopter spun downwards from 1,500 feet, Dorhman said he was looking for the biggest area of clear land to put it down on. Unfortunately, it happened to be in the wooded area of Hughes' pasture.

"That was the biggest opening in the canopy of trees," he said. "We didn't hit the trees. It turned over after we landed. If that limb hadn't broken my leg, I'd have walked away, too."

Mia Dorhman was able to walk away. She helped get him out of and away from the helicopter. She went for help as Dorhman administered first aid to himself, using electrical tape and tree limbs to splint his leg, which was broken in two places, he said.

"It was broken," he said of the leg. "She drug me away from the helicopter."

The couple also used their cell phone

"We called 911 on the phone," said Dorhman.

That brought a bevy of law enforcement and emergency personnel to the area. The Kansas Highway Patrol, Douglas County Sheriff, Baldwin City Police, Lawrence-Douglas County Ambulance and township fire departments responded. Among the first to arrive was an officer from Baldwin. When he got there, he saw Mia Dorhman.

"He said 'what are you doing,'" said Police Chief Mike McKenna. "She said 'I'm taking pictures.' He said, 'who are you?' She said 'I'm his wife.'"

Shortly after, Hughes arrived on his four-wheeler with ambulance personnel.

"I took the two paramedics to the creek," said Hughes. "We baled out and went over to him. I said 'who made these splints?' He did. That's a survivalist."

Since the crash, Hughes has gotten to know the Dorhmans. They returned to the crash site Saturday to retrieve the helicopter and the parts. They've also been in contact by phone regularly.

Oddly enough, the good of it all is new friends.

"For someone falling out of the sky, I met some good people," said Hughes. "Life goes on. I've got new friends for life."

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