It was a solemn salute by firefighters ending an almost two-day search for the missing crew of Airheart One. Just before noon on Thursday, searchers pulled the body of paramedic Robert Heighton out of the Choctawhatchee Bay, the last of the three crew members. He had over 24 years of experience as a paramedic and worked for the South Walton fire district for the last two years. He lived in Gulf Breeze.
Pilot Tom Palcic lived in Fort Walton Beach and had flown helicopters for 27 years.
Nurse Jack Chase had over 20 years of flight experience.
The tragedy has taken a toll on their fellow emergency workers. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash. It's also looking into the reason why Walton County dispatchers didn't realize the chopper was missing.
Emergency calls have increased as South Walton experiences a population explosion. The South Walton Fire Department will be taking over Airheart's dispatching. But that plan was already in the works before Wednesday's crash.
Mike Kane, Deputy Chief of the South Walton Fire District says, “The goal behind this is to take some of the burden that we put on the county emergency operations center and put that burden on our shoulders and put it off theirs.”
But everyone will shoulder the burden of sorrow behind the tragic loss of three good friends and colleagues.