Michael David Smith said there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t think back to the early morning hours of Dec. 30, 2007, and the air crash that killed an AirEvac crew.
“Something happens every day that reminds me of the crew and what happened,” said Smith, assistant Colbert County 911 director.
The three-member AirEvac Lifeteam crew died when their helicopter crashed in a wooded area in southwestern Colbert County. They were assisting in the search for a lost hunter in the Freedom Hills Wildlife Management area, which is about a mile off of Mount Mills Road.
Killed in the crash were pilot Michael Baker, and medical technicians Allan Bragwell and Tiffany Miles, both of Florence.
On Sunday afternoon, friends and colleagues joined family members for a visit at the crash site, where a memorial was erected in the victims’ honor.
“I call it remembering my friend each year,” said Tuscumbia firefighter Rodney McAnally, who also works with Keller EMS and was close friends with Bragwell. “Not a day goes by that someone on the ambulance doesn’t say something or mention Allan. Going to the memorial is a chance to go back and remember the good times and fellowship with the friends and family members that go each year.
“Going back is a way to show their families that their loved ones have not been forgotten.”
David Gardner, area manager for AirEvac, said Baker, Bragwell and Miles were committed to serving people.
“Their careers, the lives they lived, revolved around service to their communities,” Gardner said. “That’s what we are all about. We carry on in their honor, to honor their memory.”
Smith said he will never forget the hours leading up to the crash.
“It had been a long, cold night. We had been out there searching for the hunter about three hours,” Smith said. “We were ready for an ending, but not the one we got.”
He said he saw the helicopter circling, keeping a light on the hunter after he was found.
“Then I saw it coming down. You knew something was wrong and something was happening, but you didn’t want to believe it,” he said. “We immediately went from a search operation to a rescue operation.”
He said the search team broke in half, with part going to the hunter, and others heading down the ravine to the crash site.
“The closer we got, the more we knew it was pretty bad,” Smith said. “There wasn’t anything anybody could do.”
Smith said every time he hears a call come into the Colbert County 911 center for AirEvac, he thinks back to that morning.
Gardner said the memories of the crew are constantly with the staff.
“We are a tight-knit group, not just working together, but we’re all friends,” he said. “Sadly enough, (the crash) defines the Shoals base.”
Smith said the memorial was built by friends and emergency personnel who knew the victims.
“They are our fallen heroes,” Smith said.
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.