I just spent an hour writing, reading and then rewriting this post. It seems so inadequate, and so flat when compared to the task I am trying to undertake. But I don’t think I can do much better right now.

This afternoon I was hit with some shocking and sad news. I turned on the radio as I was driving down to work and heard the end of a story about a helicopter crash near Flagstaff, AZ, last Sunday, June 29. Two air ambulances collided in midair, killing six of the seven people aboard. When I got to the office I looked up the news on Google, fearing the worst, and my heart sank when I saw my friend and mentor, Tom Clausing, listed among the dead in an article on the KNXV-TV Phoenix news site.

I went back and re read the article twice, hoping I had somehow misconstrued what I read, but it was plain and clear.

Way back in March, I wrote a blog post about the Wilderness First Responder class that we host here every year. For the past two years, Tom Clausing has been our lead instructor, and I consider myself privileged to have had someone so talented and easy to work with as an instructor. I have taken the WFR class four times, and a full EMT course, and I have to say that Tom was the person I got the most from, hands down. I consider the instruction I got from Tom to be of far more use to me than most of the lectures I received from doctors in my EMT classes. I had been planning for a year or so to take the Wilderness upgrade to my EMT license from Tom’s company in Leavenworth.

He literally “wrote the book”, or at least one of them, for wilderness EMS instruction; our workbook that was filled with scenarios for us to analyze and write reports on was written by Tom, and included many real-life wilderness emergencies that he and other wilderness medics had responded to. Many of the photographs that were incorporated into our classes were taken by Tom while on the job in one location or another.

One of Tom’s jobs was as a wilderness paramedic in the Grand Canyon National Park, and he flew on helicopters as a flight paramedic routinely as part of this job. He had a lot to say about helicopters, and we tried two years in a row to arrange a Coast Guard helicopter to show up for one the WFR sims. I had finally worked the bugs out of communicating with the right person in the CG chain of command and Tom and I were certain that next year we would be able to put it all together for a helicopter to show up.

One of the things that he said about helicopters, which I will remember forever, doubly so now, was that they are basically big balls of tinfoil, full of fuel, just waiting for an opportunity to fall out of the sky and burst into flames.

The details of the accident are of course still under investigation, and probably will be for a long time, but from reading the articles that I have found on the internet, it appears that the helicopter that Tom was riding on was carrying a fire fighter who had experienced anaphylaxis to the hospital in Flagstaff, when it collided with another helicopter, transporting a patient from another hospital to the same one in Flagstaff that Tom’s chopper was headed for. For some unknown reason, they collided in midair near the hospital. Six of the seven people aboard both helicopters were killed and the seventh, a flight nurse on Tom’s helicopter, was listed in critical condition as of July 2nd. Basically, both choppers found the opportunity to fall out of the sky and burst into flames.

The last time I saw him, he had just finished loading up his old red Suburban with all the gear from the class, and was heading back to his home in Leavenworth, WA. He handed me a helicopter magazine as he was headed out to his rig. We parted ways laughing and thanking each other for a great week, and looking forward to next year.

I took so many pictures during that WFR class, but none of Tom specifically. I found this one of him watching the “litter packaging race”. I’m so frustrated and annoyed with myself that I don’t have any proper pictures of Tom, out of all those frames I took.

RIP Tom Clausing, WEMT-P

I had assumed that I would be working with, and learning from Tom Clausing for years to come. It is so shocking to realize that I will not see him again. I will miss him a lot, especially so every February, during WFR class.

Here is an online guest book that you can leave your condolences in, and another article about the accident is here. An article that talks more about Tom than the crash can be found here, at the Wenatchee World.

Post Script:

After doing some more online research, I found that the flight nurse who had initially survived in critical condition, died on Friday after being removed from life support. He was 36, with a wife and three children.