Medical chopper pelted with paint balls

By Jena Johnson - bio | email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - In all his years of flying medical choppers, pilot Tony Alvardo has never heard of someone pelting an aircraift with paint balls. "Absolute shock," said Tony Alvarado, HEMS pilot.

"Had there been a patient on board, we would have had to cancel that flight," said Alvarado. "As a matter of fact, we ended up having to cancel a flight that had been requested last evening because of the incident."

Sunday night's cancelled flight was not life threatening. Had it been, a helicopter from Conroe or Corsicana would have been called in for backup. He said in these types of situations time is not on their side. "If it's life threatening or a limb, 30 minutes is unacceptable," said Alvarado.

A single yellow paintball lags behind. One is all it takes to cause serious damage. "Had a foreign object paint ball gone in through one of the engine intakes, where the air is sucked in to make the engine run and that could have caused something more catastrophic, like an engine failure," said Alvarado.

Although the paint balls did not cause permanent damage, he said the incident goes further than just a concern. "Any act of vandalism breaking or entering, anything to do with the aircraft is a federal offense," said Alvarado.

Alvarado said his job is to help people, and he takes that very seriously. "It sounds very minor, but it could have been and is handled as a very, very serious matter," said Alvarado.

Lufkin Police said they will look through Memorial Hospital's security video for any leads. They said they feel confident the video will determine who's responsible for the vandalism. They also encourage you to call police with any information that you might have to help them solve this case.