Joseph E. Schaefer III
Warrant Officer Two, United States Army
Jonathan Godfrey, the flight nurse injured in the crash of an air ambulance, has been released from the hospital.
Godfrey, 36, of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, was discharged Sunday from the Washington Hospital Center, a hospital spokesman said yesterday.
Godfrey spent nearly a week in the hospital after his helicopter crashed January 10, 2005, into the Potomac River near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Two of Godfrey's colleagues, pilot Joseph E. Schaefer and flight paramedic Nicole D. Kielar, were killed in the crash.
The three were returning to their LifeEvac II base at Stafford Regional Airport when the accident occurred. They had taken a patient to Washington Hospital Center.
Fire and rescue units from across the state will remember Schaefer and Kielar during a memorial service today at 11 a.m. at Spotswood Baptist Church on Lafayette Boulevard.
The ceremony will include presentations by family, friends and colleagues, said Kevin Dillard, one of the organizers. At least six helicopters, led by one from the LifeEvac program, are scheduled to fly over the church immediately following the ceremony.
A funeral for Kielar, 29, of Henrico was held yesterday in Reston.
Schaefer, 56, of Sterling will be buried with
full military honors on February 4, 2005, in Arlington National Cemetery,
according to the Observer Newspapers of Herndon.
It was a day when flight suits were the most appropriate thing to wear to church, when a dark joke about paramedics trying to drum up business broke up the crowd, when ambulances wore big black sashes.
A week after a medevac helicopter plunged from the night sky into the Potomac River near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, killing a young flight paramedic and a veteran pilot, hundreds of emergency workers in uniform filled a Spotsylvania church to honor Nicole Kielar, 29, of Henrico County and Joseph E. Schaefer III, 56, of Sterling.
Afterward, a bugler played taps in the parking lot in the biting cold as eight helicopters flew over Spotswood Baptist Church in a slow procession and more than 1,000 people shivered, saluted and cried.
In its size and pageantry, the memorial ceremony reflected the close-knit fraternity of emergency workers, people who sit in traffic in their ambulances alongside everyone else, but who view their work as more akin to a soldier's. Many do it without pay and describe it as a calling. The deaths of Kielar and Schaefer were considered in the line of duty, and police officers and firefighters attended alongside pilots and paramedics.
The cause of the crash has not been determined. The LifeEvac helicopter went down with a crew of three en route to its base, Stafford Regional Airport, after taking a cardiac patient to Washington Hospital Center. The only survivor, flight nurse Jonathan Godfrey, 36, of Chesapeake Beach, Va., who suffered several broken bones, was released from the hospital over the weekend and walked into the church unassisted.
The LifeEvac crew has not returned to work yet, and neither had Matt Payne, Kielar's best friend and a fellow paramedic who had worked with her in Charlottesville and Richmond. At the service, Payne, 26, said he would go back to work this week.
"We move on, because to slow down would really [tick] her off," he told the crowd.
Kielar, who was certified in underwater, under-ice and mountain rescue, laughed off not only the risk of her profession but worse dangers, such as being stalked last year and being held up at gunpoint three weeks ago.
Kielar had the nickname "10-minute Nicki," because of the fast rush of emotions that surrounded her. She was upset about things for about 10 minutes and could sit still for only as long.
"If you knew her for 10 minutes, you knew her for life. She just had that magic," recalled her father, Mike Kielar, 65, who said her death had inspired him to leave "the rat race" of running start-up businesses to raise scholarship money for young people interested in emergency medicine.
"I go a day at a time, but I'm not going to sit on my butt and do what I was doing before," Kielar said Monday night from his Fairfax County home. "I've learned more from her in the last seven days than I did in a lifetime."
A photo montage of Kielar showed a young life arrested. Schaefer's display showed a man reaping the benefits of a life's work.
A picture of a skinny young soldier going off to Vietnam flipped past, then three little boys giggling on a couch, then three teenagers and finally Schaefer, still thin and bearded, with three adult sons. He had lost his father and a brother in the line of military duty -- both are buried at Arlington National Cemetery -- but he continued to serve. He was both a paid pilot for Air Methods Corp, which owns LifeEvac, the Virginia division of LifeNet, and a volunteer with the Sterling Rescue Squad, which meant sleeping at the firehouse every Monday night. Now he, too, is buried at Arlington.
Godfrey told National Transportation Safety Board investigators that the crash occurred after the helicopter seemed to "hit something." According to the National EMS Memorial Service, about 30 EMS workers are killed each year in the line of duty.
Jack Selby, customer service manager at Stafford Regional, hangs out with the LifeNet group at slow times. The small airport's crew has a triple-wide trailer with a television, while the flight crew has only a double-wide and no TV. The double-wide is full of flowers, he said yesterday.
"We always expect to see them coming over the
hill, coming back," he said. "And this time they're not coming back."
Posted: 14 May 2005