Man firebombs medical helicopter outside Cottonwood emergency room


by Catherine Holland

Posted on May 25, 2012 at 12:50 PM

Updated Friday, May 25 at 5:50 PM

Map: Verde Valley Medical Center

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COTTONWOOD, Ariz. -- Police in Cottonwood have arrested a man they say firebombed a helicopter early Friday morning. The entire incident was caught on video.

It happened at about 2:30 a.m. on the helipad outside the Verde Valley Medical Center emergency room.

According to Cottonwood Police Chief Jody Fanning, security video shows Richard Butts, 26, heaving a beer bottle he apparently had filled with gasoline at the helicopter, which was tied down on the pad just feet from a tank of jet fuel.

The resulting fire scorched the front of Guardian Air's Angel 3, including the windshield.

Photos of the helicopter shot by 3TV photojournalist Gibby Parra showed a large hole in the upper portion of the windshield's right panel.

The helicopter was scorched from its nose, where the flaming bottle landed, all the way up to the rotor housing. The worst of the damage appeared to be to the front and the right side of the aircraft, as well as in the cockpit. The flames destroyed the flight controls and pilots' seats.

Damage was estimated at more than $200,000. No injuries were reported.

It's not clear what prompted Butts, who reportedly had been drinking, to firebomb the helicopter. He likely will face a variety of charges including criminal damage and arson.

According to Verde Valley Medical Center, Angel 3's flight crew celebrated their 10th anniversary with the hospital last year. As of last May, the helicopter team had flown more than 2,700 patients since launching operations in 2001.

Guardian Air's Angel 3, a Bell 407 fitted with state-of-the-art equipment, is on call 24 hours a day.

Guardian Air is a division of Flagstaff Medical Center. It provides around-the-clock air-ambulance service -- both helicopters and fixed-wing planes -- throughout Arizona, the Southwest region and the Native American Nations.