Oroville man survives Coast Guard helicopter crash

Darren Hicks (right) and a fellow Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer. File photo

Darren Hicks (right) and a fellow Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer. File photo

ELIZABETH CITY, NC – Darren Hicks from Oroville was one of five crewmen aboard a Coast Guard MH-60T Jayhawk rescue helicopter that crashed in the Uinta Mountains about 50 miles east of Salt Lake City, Utah Wednesday, March 3.

Contacted in North Carolina by phone Monday, Hicks, a 22-year-old Petty Officer 3rd Class, said, “I am doing fine, just sore and bruised with a few cuts here and there.”

“All I can say is everyone survived… we are all recovering,” Hicks, one of two crewmen originally from Washington State aboard the Jayhawk, said.

He added he could not elaborate on the chopper crash because it was under investigation.

“When the investigation is done I’ll be glad to tell my story,” said the Petty Officer, who was back on the job at Air Station Elizabeth City in North Carolina.

The Jayhawk was last heard before 10 a.m. Wednesday, according to Wasatch County Sheriff Todd Bonner. One of the crew members used a cell phone to send a text message asking for help from the other helicopter, said Sheriff Bonner, adding that the other helicopter crew was unaware of the mishap.

The helicopter that crashed was one of two that was returning to Air Station Elizabeth City from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. The choppers had been deployed in Washington State as part of a joint U.S.-Canadian security operation for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., said Dan Dewell, a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 11th District in Alameda, Calif.

All five crewmen in the crash were taken to University Hospital in Salt Lake City. Petty Officer 2nd Class Gina Panuzzi, 31, of Lacey, Wash. remained hospitalized with internal injuries. Lt. Cmdr. Steven Cerveny of Lincoln, Neb., was listed in fair condition. The remaining two crew members, Patrick Shaw, 37, of Juneau, Alaska and Petty Officer 3rd Class Edward Sychra, 26, of Blanchard, Idaho, returned to Elizabeth City with Hicks.

Hicks, a 2007 graduate of Oroville High School said he had spoken with his mom and dad, Karen and Michael Hicks of Oroville, letting them know he was all right. He said his parents and sister visited him while he was at Whidbey.

“While they were there the Secret Service called and told me to stay within 15 minutes of the helicopter because Vice President Joe Biden was on his way to the Olympics. I was the one on-call in case of the need for a rescue,” said the Petty Officer.

The Petty Officer, who graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Rescue Swimmer Program in 2008, was back to work doing his duties maintaining the rescue equipment on the helicopter.

“I am responsible for checking the rafts and survival vests, making sure the oxygen bottles are topped off, inspecting the helicopter,” he said.

A mishap analysis board from the air station was sent to Utah to investigate the crash.