Worthington snowmobiler critically injured in collision with Army helicopter

  • The scene in Worthington where a snowmobiler crashed into an Army helicopter, March 13, 2019. FOR THE GAZETTE/FRAN RYAN

For the Gazette
Published: 3/14/2019 12:09:16 AM

WORTHINGTON — Driving across a field maintained as a snowmobile trail on Tuesday night just after 7:30, a snowmobiler was seriously injured when he crashed into the rear of a U.S. Army Black Hawk medevac helicopter that had landed in the field earlier that day.

Jeff Smith, 44, of Worthington was evacuated by Life Star helicopter to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

Worthington and Chesterfield fire departments, Massachusetts State Police, the Environmental Police and Hilltown Community Ambulance responded to the accident scene.

A hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday night that Smith was in critical condition.

The accident took place on Huntington Road (Route 112), roughly a mile from the Town Hall. The field, formerly used as a private airstrip owned by the Albert family, is now the property of Don Chase, of Chase Enterprises Corp. in Northampton.

During the winter, the field is a popular snowmobile trail.

“You can see them, when they hit that stretch, they open up the throttle and go as fast as they can,” Select Board member Charley Rose said Wednesday.

Worthington resident Steve Magargal witnessed the crash as it occurred.

Magargal said a friend told him the night before that the helicopter would be landing in the field that morning, apparently in conjunction with a private event that was happening in town.

“People knew they were coming,” Magargal said. “I am pretty sure they got permission from the landowner to land there. As a matter of fact, I called him after the accident to let him know what happened.”

Attempts to reach Chase for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful. Efforts to contact the U.S. Army at Fort Drum in New York were also unsuccessful Wednesday evening.

Magargal said he went to the field in the morning to videotape the arrival of the helicopter, it being quite a rare event. The video shows members of the crew as well as adults and children around the aircraft.

He said he also talked with the crew members, who told him they would be leaving at dusk, so he returned to film their departure.

As he sat in his car with a friend waiting for the helicopter to take off he noticed lights coming up over a rise.

“My heart sank when I saw lights of the snowmobile appear from the right and almost immediately my friend said, ‘He doesn’t see it,’” Magargal said. “I had the music playing in my car with the windows up and we still heard the sound of the crash. It’s amazing that he survived.”

Magargal called 911, then ran to the scene where he said the helicopter crew was already trying to assist the snowmobile driver. That is when he discovered that the driver was a friend of his.

“He was bloody and talking a little, but it was incoherent,” Magargal said, noting that the emergency responders arrived very shortly thereafter. “The guys from the helicopter were really helpful, and they seemed really disappointed about the accident.”

According to the Hilltown Community Ambulance Association, first responders soon called for a helicopter. Fire crews set up a landing zone and Smith was carried to an ambulance where EMT’s began to stabilize him while waiting for the helicopter transport.

Rose said the Worthington Fire Department left a fire truck at the scene as shelter for the pilot, who remained in the field overnight.

Magargal said the pilot told him that he had found a room for the rest of his crew.

“It’s too bad. It was such a freak combination of a lot of stuff,” Magargal said.

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