Crash Survivor Would Like To Return To Air

CLEVELAND (AP) - The lone survivor of a medical helicopter crash last month plans to return to the air as a paramedic.

Joseph Paoletta, 29, of Brecksville is recovering from burns suffered on Jan. 18, when the helicopter crashed on liftoff from University Hospitals. The pilot and a nurse were killed.

Paoletta said he wants to return to work so he can support his wife, who is six months pregnant.

"I should be able to return to full duty ... That is my desire," he said Wednesday.

He spoke from a wheelchair with his fractured and burned left arm resting on a pillow. Bandages covered the arm and both of his severely burned legs.

Paoletta thanked his caregivers, including doctors who grafted skin from his upper right arm to reconstruct his left thumb, which was burned to the bone.

Officials at MetroHealth Medical Center where he is recovering wouldn't let him talk about the crash.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board indicates a sudden wind gust may have blown the helicopter into a wall before it crashed.

Paoletta escaped the burning helicopter after it hit the ground.

He said he wants to do something to honor the lives of nurse Kelly Conti, 38, of Wickliffe, and pilot Bill Spence, 51, of Marshallville.

"I love them very much. They're like members of my family," Paoletta said. "I'm going to make sure their passing is not in vain."

He is expected to remain in the hospital for a few more weeks while he rehabilitates his legs.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)