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Medical helicopter service suspended after N. Carolina crash

FRANKLIN, N.C. (AP) — An emergency helicopter transport service announced Friday that it suspended operations, a day after one of its helicopters crashed in western North Carolina, leaving three of the four people aboard hospitalized.

“Safety is of the upmost concern to our program, and as such we have suspended all LIFE FORCE operations until our crews feel ready to return to service,” LIFE FORCE Air Medical, which is operated by Erlanger Health System, said in a statement posted on Facebook.

The service didn’t have information on the circumstances or cause of the crash. Erlanger will still accept patients via air medical transport and it was working with other air medical providers while the program is grounded.

The Eurocopter EC135 medical helicopter landed hard in Franklin on Thursday night, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Macon County Sheriff Brent Holbrooks said the helicopter was taking a patient from a medical facility in Murphy to Mission Hospital in Asheville.

One crew member and three other people on board were injured. The crew member was released from the hospital and the other three people were in stable condition, Erlanger President and CEO Jim Coleman said in a statement posted on Facebook on Friday. Macon County Emergency Services Director Warren Cabe previously had said they had minor to moderate injuries.

The aircraft was severely damaged.

Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Erlanger's website said the helicopter LIFE FORCE 6 operates out of Cherokee County, North Carolina, with a base radius of 150 miles (241 kilometers). This was the first crash in the 34-year history of the LIFE FORCE program, Erlanger Health System said.