Troy University—one year ago. It’s raining hard. The bleachers in Sartain Hall Gymnasium are filling with people.
Outside the gym: a Haynes Life Flight helicopter parked on the pavement. There are fire trucks, police cruisers, and five-hundred acres of ambulances.
They’ve come from Coffee, Pike, Covington, Dale, Elmore, and Montgomery County. They’re here to honor their own.
On the free-throw line are three caskets draped in American flags. Most in attendance wear EMS blues, flight suits, and class-A uniforms. Many are on-call.
There’s an audio recording playing on the sound system. It fills the room with the last radio transmission for Haynes Life Flight 2—which crashed eighty miles south of Montgomery, days earlier.
“November-Nine-One-One-Golf-Foxtrot,” dispatch says to the deceased. “We show you departing with four souls onboard, we’ll take it from here…”
If there are dry eyes in the county, they aren't living right.
The accident happened during the wee hours of Saturday. The helipad crew at Troy Regional Medical Center was having a quiet night.
Then, a call from dispatch. A single-vehicle accident on County Road 606. Pilot Chad
Hammond checked the weather. There was a stiff fog rolling in.
He made a judgment call, then radioed back, saying something like: “Copy that, dispatch, we’ll take it from here.”
The three-person crew loaded supplies, working together like a symphony. First responders are a family. They log twenty-four-hour shifts together, laugh together, cook together, they get on each other’s nerves.
That night, their bird clipped along the Coffee County fog searching for wreckage. They found it. They touched down, loaded the critical patient—Chad probably helped with the stretcher.
“Chad was a helluva a pilot,” says one first-responder. “Lotta pilots don't help load patients, but he did.”
And it would be his last time.
The funeral is interrupted.
A radio sounds in the back row. It's loud. A few fire-medics slip out the door. Sirens blare. It's a noise everyone in…