A 1998 Airbus EC135 P1 air ambulance made a dramatic emergency landing Saturday night on Chicago’s south side near one of the metro area’s busiest freeway junctions, shutting down ground traffic for hours. The three-person crew and the patient all survived and are being treated for their injuries at area hospitals. The crew was reported in stable condition while the Chicago Fire Department reported the patient is in critical condition.
The helicopter, N312SA, registered to Bennett Aviation of Elmhurst, Illinois, was operated for Superior Ambulance Air Med 1 by Pentastar Aviation. Data from Flightradar24 shows that the flight originated near Hobart, Indiana at 9:11 p.m. and appeared to be en route to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois, on a heading of 298 degrees flying at 1,600 feet.
At 9:22 p.m. the pilot made a mayday call to Midway tower about one minute after requesting a route deviation to Chicago Gary Airport (GYY). Before the mayday call, the helicopter turned due north and then proceeded northeast toward Gary along a heading that took it over a series of small community parks.
It landed in a median between the junction of the I-94 and I-57 freeways near Wentworth Avenue between 98th and 99th streets in the Fernwood section of the city less than half a mile from a CTA train station. The helicopter came to rest in a grassy area upright. Crash scene photos show the main rotor system damaged but still attached. First responders reported smoke in the area but no fire.
Audio picked up by LiveATC picked up the terse exchange between Midway tower and the helicopter:
N312SA: “Mayday mayday mayday, 312 Sierra Alpha. I need to find a place to land.”
Midway Tower: “Two Sierra Alpha can I get you any assistance.”
N312SA: “Not at the moment. We’re going down.”
Midway Tower: “Two Sierra Alpha do you know where you are going to be landing?”
N312SA: “In a field.”
Midway Tower: “Two Sierra Alpha we’ll have someone there very shortly.”
Midway Tower then proceeded to vector and inbound Piper Cherokee and a Chicago Police helicopter to the crash site. The police helicopter arrived within four minutes of the accident and erroneously reported that the EMS helicopter was on fire.
Midway Tower: “Does it look like it went down hard or autorotated?”
Chicago Police 1: “Yeah absolutely it looks like it’s on fire.”