Florida Keys

Helicopter ambulance sent to pick up a stabbing victim catches fire on the way

Smoke and flames billow out from beneath the rotors of one of Monroe County’s Trauma Star medical helicopters on the soccer field of Coral Shores High School in Plantation Key Friday morning.
Smoke and flames billow out from beneath the rotors of one of Monroe County’s Trauma Star medical helicopters on the soccer field of Coral Shores High School in Plantation Key Friday morning.

A person was stabbed Friday morning in Islamorada, and the helicopter air ambulance sent from Marathon to take the victim to a Miami-Dade hospital caught fire before landing on an Upper Keys soccer field to pick up the patient.

Deputy Becky Herrin, media relations officer with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, said a suspect in the stabbing is in custody.

The stabbing happened outside the entrance to the La Siesta Resort in Islamorada. Two construction workers on their way from Miami to the resort began arguing in a vehicle, Herrin said. One worker then stabbed the other in the chest, she said.

The victim was identified as Manuel Lopez, 43, of Miami. The suspect, Sergio Rivero, also of Miami, was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

The helicopter that caught fire is one of Monroe County’s three Trauma Star air ambulances and the oldest in the fleet, said county communications officer Cammy Clark.

The chopper landed safely at Coral Shores High School at mile marker 89.9 on Plantation Key around 7 a.m., Clark said, but other arrangements had to be made to transport the patient to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami. The patient was taken to Mariners Hospital, mile marker 91.5 in Tavernier, and a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter flew in to take the victim to the mainland.

The stabbing happened a little after 6 a.m. at the La Siesta Resort, mile marker 80.2. It was the result of an argument between two construction workers there, Herrin said.

Islamorada Fire Rescue medics responded to the incident. Chief Terry Abel said he’s not sure the condition of the man, but his crew opted to “err on the side of caution” and have the patient airlifted.

“He got poked with a knife in the torso,” Abel said. “We don’t know what kind of knife and we don’t know how deep.”

The aircraft that caught fire is 35 years old and is used as a backup to the other two aircraft in the fleet, Clark said. It was used Friday because one of the other choppers was undergoing routine maintenance, Clark said. The older Trauma Star had just finished its complete annual maintenance required by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the county.

The fire will be investigated by both the FAA and the county’s Trauma Star aviation division.

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204

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