Rooftop Rescue

In May, three helicopters were involved in a dramatic high-rise rescue mission in Mexico City. El Universal PhotoE

In May, three helicopters were involved in a dramatic high-rise rescue mission in Mexico City. El Universal Photo

I never lost sight of the man who took my hand [and helped me] board the helicopter I will never forget his face, said Rose Ibarra in an interview with Mexico Citys El Universal newspaper. Ibarra, one of the victims rescued from the roof of a burning building in Mexico City on May 21, broke into tears when she realized she was safe on board Condor 01, a Eurocopter AS355 TwinStar operated by the Secretara de Seguridad Pblica (ministry of public security) in Mexico City, and one of three helicopters involved in this remarkable rescue operation.
The raging fire started shortly before 11 a.m. local time in the bustling Santa Fe business district of Mexico City. The fire is thought to have started due to a short-circuit in a powerplant located in the basement of a 10-story building. Spreading quickly, the flames and smoke forced more than a dozen people to flee to the roof in search of fresh air.
As the smoke thickened, three helicopters rushed to the scene (while ground firefighters battled the blaze below). The first helicopter to arrive was an AgustaWestland AW119 Koala from the Relmpagos rescue group of the Secretara de Seguridad Ciudadana (department of public safety) of the state of Mexico; the aforementioned TwinStar and an AS350 B3 AStar from the Condors squadron of the public security ministry were close behind. 
The first rescuer on the roof was Relmpagos paramedic Victor Figueroa. Figueroa told Vertical that he performed a rapid triage assessment of the victims and determined that the priority was a woman suffering severe smoke poisoning and panic. She was the first one out of there, he said.
Condors paramedic Jose Alberto Hernandez also helped rescue victims from the roof of the building. In an interview with Vertical, he recalled, There was not much time, we had to get the people out of there, we were hovering about 30 centimeters [12 inches] from the roof. I jumped [out] and approached them. I tried to reassure them to not put at risk the operation; the key was to give them confidence.

Relmpagos pilot Alejandro Garcia, meanwhile, said the major complication of the operation was a strong wind caused by a Venturi effect in the urban environment. Nevertheless, he said the Koala which is equipped with a rescue winch that has 165 feet of line and a 450-pound load capacity performed exceptionally well, even while hovering in Mexico Citys 7,500-foot elevation. It is a great machine, he said. We have even made [approaches] to 14,000 feet in the area of Nevado de Toluca [a national park some 50 miles west of Mexico City] without power troubles. Five people were rescued from the building roof by the Relmpagos crew, with the remainder saved by the Condors.
The aftermath of the fire that saw over 600 people evacuated resulted in only one person injured (with third-degree burns) and 20 people affected by smoke poisoning. Thanks to the actions of the ground firefighters, plus, of course, the helicopters and their crews, there were no fatalities. When asked about recognition for the helicopter crews efforts, Garcia told Vertical: Doing good for its own sake is a mentality that we promote as a group. Knowing that people are safe because of you, after going through a life-or-death situation, is our best recognition.

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