A Lifeflight of Maine helicopter takes off from Maine Medical Center's landing pad in Portland. The pictured helicopter is not the one that was hit early Monday morning in East Machias. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A LifeFlight helicopter that was damaged early Monday morning when it was struck by a slow-moving ambulance likely will need a rotor blade replaced but could return to service by Wednesday evening.

Thomas Judge, executive director of LifeFlight of Maine, said he was in East Machias on Tuesday to see the damage himself and to talk to the helicopter crew and engineers from the aircraft manufacturer. The helicopter was made by aerospace firm Leonardo, an Italian company with a base of American operations in Philadelphia, he said.

Engineers were doing a thorough inspection of the helicopter, to make sure there wasn’t any damage aside from the rotor blade that was struck by the ambulance, according to Judge. That’s routine with any sort of mishap to a LifeFlight helicopter, so that the air crew knows it is safe to fly, he said.

“It is still on the ground at Washington Academy,” Judge said, referring to where the helicopter had landed early Monday morning, on an athletic field. “There were a lot of things taken apart.”

He said LifeFlight’s plan, as of Tuesday, was to go back to East Machias on Wednesday with a new rotor blade, to replace the damaged one and then, if the replacement goes smoothly, to fly back to Bangor. LifeFlight likely would conduct a few more tests in Bangor, he said, but could potentially return the helicopter to service late Wednesday.

Judge said he did not have a dollar estimate for how much it might cost to replace the damaged rotor. LifeFlight’s insurance carrier, and the insurance company for the town of Machias, which owns the ambulance, are expected to cover the repair cost.

“We want to get it back in the air, and then we’ll worry about the paperwork,” Judge said.

The helicopter had been sent to East Machias early Monday morning to pick up a patient who had been injured in a motor vehicle crash in Whiting. The ambulance was approaching the landed helicopter, which had been shut down, when it struck the rotor blade.

Another helicopter was dispatched for the patient and the damaged one remained grounded.

Judge said LifeFlight rotates aircraft in and out of service on a regular basis, and always has a backup helicopter in case one of the other three it uses is taken out of service. LifeFlight has been able to keep up with calls by using the backup helicopter.

Bill Kitchen, town manager for Machias, said the crash was just an unfortunate accident. The ambulance’s full staff of three trained EMTs were tending to the patient in the back and asked a volunteer East Machias firefighter to drive the ambulance to where the helicopter was waiting.

The firefighter also works as a dispatcher for the Machias Fire Department and is licensed to drive both fire trucks for the department and the town’s ambulances, Kitchen said. He simply made a mistake and drove too close to the helicopter when the ambulance was pulling up to transfer the patient.

No one was injured when the ambulance crashed into the helicopter.

The damage to the Machias ambulance was very minor, Kitchen said. He said the front passenger-side corner of the vehicle had “dimple and scrape” and that an emergency light cover was scratched but not broken. He said the damage is purely cosmetic so he doesn’t anticipate getting it repaired.

“We will soldier on, proudly wearing our scuffs and scrapes of dedicated service,” Kitchen said.

As for the crash that resulted in the helicopter being called out, four people between the ages of 16 and 28 were in a vehicle that collided with a tree on Halls Mills Road in Whiting around midnight, according to Maine State Police spokesperson Katy England.

Two of the people in the vehicle — driver Braden Pottle, 20, of Lubec and front seat passenger Kaylin Pitty, 16, of Roque Bluffs — were taken to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor with life-threatening injuries, England said. Both later were listed as being in stable condition, she said.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....