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Drive started to help injured copter pilot

South Boston News
Lee Hilty and his Robinson R22 Beta helicopter / April 11, 2019
Friends of an Alton man who suffered serious injuries in a helicopter crash Saturday night have launched an online fund drive to help cover his medical bills.

The GoFundMe campaign for Lee Hilty, a 29-year-old independent contractor and FAA-rated pilot, sets a goal of $150,000. On the first day, the drive took in $8,683 from 54 donors.

Dane Skelton, pastor at Faith Community Church in South Boston, created the online campaign for Hilty, who attends the church and like Skelton is an avid flyer. “I’m a pilot and he’s a pilot [and] we’re friends out at the airport” as well as at church, said Skelton.

Hilty suffered second- and third-degree burns up and down the right side of his body from the crash and “had some really significant lacerations across his forehead, nose and face,” said Skelton. Hilty also suffered a broken jaw and dislocations to the right side of his face.

Since being hospitalized at Duke University Hospital, where he was airflifted Saturday night from the scene of the Clover-area crash, Hilty has undergone foot surgery, spent time in the emergency room and ICU and now is recuperating in a regular hospital bed. No one knows yet when he may be released from the hospital, said Skelton.

“I think the burns are more significant than I thought,” he added.

Hilty crash-landed Saturday night around 10 p.m. as he was taking off from a friend’s private grass airstrip to fly back home. Hovering in the air about 50-60 feet, Hilty had to turn his copter 180 degrees to clear some trees and fly in a forward direction — necessary for his Robinson R22 Beta helicopter to gain altitude, explained Skelton. Flying in the dark, Hilty turned the craft only 160 degrees.

As the copter advanced, the main rotor blade clipped a pine tree, causing the craft and its pilot to plummet to the ground. Despite his injuries, Hilty was able to walk away from the copter before it burst into flames.

The campaign goal is high — $150,000 — because Hilty has no health insurance. He works as an independent contractor hauling prefab building parts in a heavy-duty truck. Skelton said Hilty also does light construction work.

“He’s a hard-working young man and has helped a lot of people,” said Skelton, citing a church mission trip to the Houston area to help people there rebuild after Hurricane Harvey struck with devastating force last year.

On the GoFundMe page, a message attributed to Hilty offers thanks for the help he’s received: “Thank the good Lord that I am alive!” it begins. After explaining the circumstances of the crash, Hilty concludes, “I feel so blessed to have so many friends that are more than willing to say a nice word, to offer a prayer, to pay a visit or offer a helping hand. Thank you all very much!”

To take part in the campaign, visit

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So he can afford a $100,000 - $250,000 machine but not insurance? What priorities are we teaching this young man?

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