HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A tragic helicopter crash, a miraculous survivor, and heroic efforts from a U.S. Forest Service crew. Thursday, for the first time publicly, the team leader on last month's prescribed burn talked with WLOX News about the tragedy.
Jay Boykin worked a prescribed burn Thursday morning, one of the first since that helicopter went down one month ago. He said that day, his crew had to quickly transition from prescribed burn to aviation incident.
"Everything was going exactly as planned; the burn was going very well. No indications at all of any issues or problems with the helicopter or from the crew," said Boykin.
That all changed in an instant. Seconds after watching the chopper overhead, Boykin heard something strange.
"Kind of like maybe if you took an air hose and pulled it loose from an air tank. It was a little unusual. And then just within two seconds, it was the sound of metal hitting trees. It was all very sudden. Just within an instant or two. I did hear the crash, and it happened in just a couple seconds," he recalled.
Thankfully and amazingly, one of the three man helicopter crew survived the crash. Not only that, but Brendan Mullen somehow managed to walk from the wreckage to a nearby road, despite his severe burns and fractures.
"Six or seven hundred feet, uphill, through the prescribed burn. So, you're absolutely right. It was nothing short of miraculous. And I think he recognizes that maybe he wasn't on his own making it out," said Boykin.
The survivor's walk from the woods gave Boykin's crew a good idea where they'd find the crash site.
"The crew that we sent in to find the helicopter, in just a few minutes they were able to locate the ship and advised me it would be a recovery operation, rather than a rescue," he said.
Jay Boykin admitted it's been difficult getting back in the woods on a prescribed burn. But, he said, that's the job. And it's a job that comes with potential dangers. Plus, he said for him, it's part of the healing process.
"This is what we do. And getting back to doing what we do, our normal routine, is one of the things we wanted to accomplish by getting back out here," he explained.
The U.S. Forest Service has not yet made a decision to continue using helicopters on prescribed burns.