PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - He survived the unimaginable.

A violent air ambulance crash into the side of a mountain in a remote area of Pinal County.

It happened in December of 2015.

The impact killed the pilot and the flight nurse on board.

Native Air Crash File 3

The impact killed the pilot and the flight nurse on board.

Now, for the first time since that horrific night, Derek Boehm, who was a flight paramedic at the time, is sharing how he "survived the odds" with CBS 5 anchor Preston Phillips.

Surviving the crash was nothing short of miraculous. Boehm was the only one to make it out alive after his helicopter crashed into the Superstition Mountains at more than 100 miles per hour and, would you believe it, he credits his smartphone with saving his life.

"It was a Tuesday. It was like any other Tuesday," said Boehm.

Boehm had flown in the Native Air ambulance for years.

HFR AIR AMBULANCE CRASH 1

"There's no accurate way to describe crashing into a mountain at over a 100 miles per hour," said Boehm.

The helicopter had just undergone a major overhaul a few days prior and was in tip-top shape.

"The pilots loved how it was flying. Said it's like flying a Corvette," said Boehm.

David Schneider, 51, a retired U.S. Marine, was piloting the Native Air ambulance that day.

Chad Frary, 38, retired from the U.S. Army special forces, was the flight nurse on board.

Boehm says they were on their last flight of the day and that they had just dropped off their last patient, then fueled up at Mesa Gateway Airport and got back up in the air again.

He says it was routine.

Schneider even orbited over Frary's house a couple times so he could wave to his daughter.

As they flew over the Superstitions, the sun was setting. Everything was perfect, Boehm said.

Then, in an instant, their world came crashing down.

"It wasn't until seconds before the impact we realized something was going wrong. I had enough time to look up from my laptop and go, 'Uhhhhhh,' and grab my harness. We started going into that dive and you could see the terrain coming. You know, just closer and closer and closer," said Boehm.

The Native Air crew slammed into a remote part of the snow-covered Superstition Mountains.

"There's no accurate way to describe crashing into a mountain at over a 100 miles per hour. It's just astonishingly violent. The whole airframe bent and collapsed and I remember all of it, every second," said Boehm.

Boehm tried to get to Schneider and Frary, but quickly realized he was helpless.

He was badly injured and soaked in jet fuel.

"I remember calling to him and saying, 'I'll be right there bud,' you know. That's when I tried to stand up to get to him, and that's when I could feel the bones moving in my legs. I had broken both femurs," said Boehm.

To make matters worse, the emergency location transmitter that's on the helicopter wasn't working.

It's designed to go off and send out a specific distress signal on a specific frequency so that a downed crew can be found.

"Apparently, it was damaged or destroyed because it never went off," said Boehm.

One hour turned to two and two turned to three.

It was getting dark. The temperature was dropping.

"Were you thinking at that time, the sun is setting, it's freezing cold outside, we've got hours. We need someone to find us right now," asked Phillips.

"That's right," replied Boehm.

"Or else, I might not survive," asked Phillips.

"That's right," Boehm replied.

Then out of nowhere, Boehm heard the sound of two Black Hawk helicopters that just happened to be flying over the area and just so happens, his iPhone was still working and within reach.

"I took out my phone and turned on the flashlight and just started kind of waving it at 'em. They changed course, banked to their right and started dropping altitude and then the pilot turned on his spotlight. At this point, I was just like, did that really work?" said Boehm.

The chopper started orbiting the crash site, then a couple of guys rappelled down, loaded Boehm up and flew him off the mountain.

"I remember cheering, getting real excited, a feeling you can't imagine, where at least they found us now. You think this device you use every day, people call 911 on it millions of times a day, you know, comes down to a flashlight," said Boehm.

Boehm was airlifted to Maricopa Medical's level 1 trauma center in Phoenix, where the incredible team there pieced him back together.

Native Air Survivor Part 2

"There are some things you remember all your life, some people you carry with you all your life and Derek is one of those," said trauma Dr. Paul Blackburn.

"There are some things you remember all your life, some people you carry with you all your life and Derek is one of those," said trauma Dr. Paul Blackburn, who was the first to tend to Boehm when he arrived at the hospital, bruised and broken.

"I was amazed he was alive because of the velocity at which they hit that mountain and then for him to come in with the long bones in his legs fractured, he was in his flight suit, smelled of jet fuel, I knew that this was going to be a complicated resuscitation and, of course, you always wonder if they're going to make it initially," said Dr. Blackburn.

In addition to his bilateral femur fractures, Boehm had fractured his right ankle, along with five of his ribs.

He also suffered second-degree chemical burns to 5 percent of his body, hypothermia and a deep laceration to his leg.

Trauma chief Dr. Sydney Vail came in off a vacation with his wife when he learned Boehm was in his emergency room.

"It's tough. We're used to people getting hurt, but not when it’s one of us," said Dr. Vail.

The problems here were Boehm was out for a long time, the exposure, he was doused in fuel and hurt in a way that most people don't get hurt.

"We've had survivors from these things who were permanently disabled, permanently in a vegetative state with a horrible head injury, never literally being able to be put back together. They're in so many pieces. That was not the case for Derek," said Dr. Vail.

In fact, it was quite the opposite.

After spending three months in a wheelchair, Boehm went to nursing school and is now working at Maricopa Medical Center, alongside the doctors that pieced him back together.

Native Air Survivor Part 21

After spending three months in a wheelchair, Boehm went to nursing school and is now working at Maricopa Medical Center.

"At what point did you decide that this would be a place that you'd like to work, that you'd actually like to be involved with the people that helped you?" asked Phillips.

"I think as soon as I was able to get back on my feet and have a clear purpose as to why I was still here. That's the way I was going to give back, by working here at Maricopa Medical," Boehm replied.

Standing in the same spot he was laying three years ago, as a patient, Boehm says he remembers it all like it was yesterday.

"I remember hearing lots of voices. It was kind of a chaotic scene from what I've been told. Lots of people were trying to ask me lots of questions. I just remember feeling safe, feeling like I've got a chance to make it," said Boehm.

See, the thing about Boehm is he never gave up hope.

"People have two choices. It's like fear. Do you run from it or do you step up to it? He stepped up to it. From the day he got here, it was nothing but a positive attitude," said Dr. Vail.

Boehm says every time he walks past the helipad and into the hospital for his shift, he remembers everything about that horrific night but comes in with a mission and that's to help others.

"It's kind of a reminder to me of how lucky I am to be alive and work here and give back for everything they've done for me," said Boehm.

"For that person to come and work at the place that's helped him, put him back together, what's that like having him here? It's such a wild story," Phillips asked of Dr. Blackburn.

"It's like the circle is complete. I was very surprised the day that I came in and saw him sitting in the nurse's station and he got up and walked and shook my hand. A warm feeling, a wonderful feeling and it was surreal," said Dr. Blackburn.

Boehm will tell you, as a result of the crash and the loss of his close friends, he's battled PTSD, as many people around the world do.

Symptoms include disbelief, survivor’s guilt, flashbacks and triggers, such as hot and cold temperatures.

No day is easy, but he says through it all, one thing that has helped get him through is his positive attitude.

As far as what caused the helicopter to go down, no one knows.

The NTSB released a preliminary report on the crash, but when Boehm met up with Phillips, he asked him if he could find out why three years later, there was still no final report.

Most final crash reports are made available on the anniversary date of a crash.

When Phillips contacted the NTSB, they issued him the following response:

“The NTSB’s investigation of this accident led us to some technical issues that needed time to test and research involving both foreign and domestic participation. As a result, our investigated process has taken longer than usual. Additional information gathered as part of this investigation will be available shortly when the factual report is released. The final report, which will be issued soon after the factual report is issued, will include analysis and the determination of probable cause. Both reports will be available on the NTSB website."

Preston Phillips anchors CBS 5 This Morning alongside Yetta Gibson.  Preston frequently reports on medical breakthroughs being used to help people in the Valley.  
 
 


Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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