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Pilot Waited 3 Hours For Rescue After Everglades Crash

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A helicopter crashed into the Everglades Saturday, sending its pilot to hospital (Source: CBS4)

A helicopter crashed into the Everglades Saturday, sending its pilot to hospital (Source: CBS4)

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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – The 54-year old helicopter pilot who was rescued after he crashed in the Everglades remains in critical condition at Broward General Medical Center Sunday evening.

Mark Palmieri’s ordeal began early Saturday morning, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, who got a call just before 7:30 a.m. saying that a helicopter had gone down west of U.S. 27.

The call came to BSO in a round-about way.

“The pilot called someone else, possibly a friend, and told him he had crashed and thought it was somewhere in the Everglades,” BSO spokesman Mike Jachles told CBSMiami.com. “That person called someone else, possibly 911 wherever he was. Our initial call came from the tower.”

Jachles said the FAA tower could not provide any better location than “the Everglades,” a huge search area.

To help increase their odds of finding the downed pilot, BSO Fire rescue called in units from Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue to help divide the search area into manageable size.

An airboat unit from FWC and Broward County also was called in to help with the ground search.

“This was truly like searching for a needle in a haystack,” Jachles said, “with very, very, gray information.”

Within three hours a Palm Beach Sheriff’s chopper spotted a capsized Robinson R-44 helicopter and its pilot lying unconscious just outside the pilot’s door.

“He was outside of the aircraft,” Jachles said. “We don’t know if he was thrown from it or he self-extricated.”

The news shocked Roni Avissar, a pilot and close friend of Palmieri. Avissar was waiting at the Bravo Helicopters hangar at Tamiami Airport Saturday morning. When Palmieri didn’t show up as planned, Avissar looked online and learned the news.

“It’s very, very concerning,” said Avissar. “Mark, he’s an excellent pilot, an outstanding mechanic so you know if something like that happens to him something really wrong must have happened.”

The FWC airboat was the first to reach Palmieri. Jachles said Palmieri was seriously injured and unresponsive, so a BSO Fire Rescue chopper dropped a flight medic down to assist.

“He was able to revive the man,” Jachles said.

Palmieri had crashed in a remote area of the glades where there are no roads, an area 4 miles west of US 27 and 9 miles north of I-75 in far western Broward County.

A trip by airboat would have been too slow, so Miami-Dade Fire Rescue used the hoist on their helicopter to lift Palmieri from the crash site. MDFR took him to Broward General Medical Center for treatment.

“When you are talking about lack of luck, ok, that’s as bad as it can get,” Avissar said. “I mean the alternative is the ocean which is even worse.”

According to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald, Palmieri was on his way to Tamiami Airport from Orlando. Palmieri owns Bravo Helicopters, which is based out of Tamiami.

There he was supposed to turn the R-44 over to Roni Avissari, a part time pilot and a dean at the University of Miami’s Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Avissari was waiting for the chopper so he could fly a passenger on a tour around Miami.

Avissari told the paper he became concerned when Palmieri was overdue and tried calling Palmieri’s cell phone several times, to no avail.

“He’s an excellent pilot, very attentive to details and an outstanding mechanic, so this is very surprising,” Avissari told the Herald.

The cause of the crash is not yet known. There are no reports of a distress call made by Palmieri before the crash.

FAA records show the helicopter is relatively new, manufactured in 2008.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)

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