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Last updated 1:42AM ET
March 5, 2021
Witnesses say Copter Sputtered Before Crash
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - A search helicopter looking for a missing hunter was hovering above the man and two rescuers when its engine sputtered and the aircraft crashed into a fiery heap, killing three people, witnesses said.

Emergency management worker Michael David Smith said he and two others were on the ground near the hunter when something went wrong with the chopper, which was directly overhead.

"I heard a funny noise, then it seemed like the helicopter was sputtering," Smith said. "Then it went in a tailspin and started going down."

The aircraft crashed about 50 yards from where they were standing.

"It didn't just hit and explode. There were a couple of small explosions, but it was just on fire. And within seconds it was fully involved," Smith said. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

The crash occurred at 2:45 a.m. Sunday in a wildlife management area in Colbert County, located in northwest Alabama. The accident killed were pilot Michael Baker and medical technicians Allan Bragwell, 40, and Tiffany Miles, 29, both of Florence, authorities said.

The hunter, 25-year-old Matt McDowell of Florence, was located less than two hours after relatives reported him missing. He was treated for dehydration.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were on the scene and could take as long as one year to complete a review, said safety board spokesman Robert Gretz.

The helicopter was with the Missouri-based Air Evac EMS, which has one of its five Alabama offices in Muscle Shoals.

"These were our family members, and we are devastated at this loss. Our focus at this time is on providing support for the family and friends of these crew members," Air Evac chief executive Colin Collins said in a statement.

Colbert County Sheriff Ronnie May said the company has assisted the department in search and rescue missions free of charge.

"They have helped us out on several occasions," May said.

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