Nearly 24 hours of dread ended yesterday afternoon when Henry and Iris Winters of Catonsville got word from the Navy: Their son was going to live, the only survivor of a Gulf of Oman helicopter crash that killed the three other crew members.
"He's recovering fine and the prognosis is good for a full recovery," said Mr. Winters. "We were so terrified at first because we'd heard he was in critical condition and all his crew mates were killed."
His son, Navy Lt. Bruce E. Winters, 26, was the co-pilot on the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter when it crashed two days ago on a mountain in Fujairah, a tiny emirate on the Gulf of Oman. Local residents spotted the fire atop the mountain and found the helicopter wreckage, said Mrs. Winters, who has been in regular contact with the Navy since the accident.
Navy officials said that the helicopter had been returning from a routine logistics mission when it crashed near the town of Siji.
For the next 24 hours, the injured airman's parents and four younger siblings waited for a promising word from doctors at the Rashid Hospital in Dubai, a Persian Gulf emirate west of Fujairah.
About 1 p.m. yesterday, they received a phone call from the Navy, and the news was good.
"I've never been so relieved," Mrs. Winters said from the family home on Frederick Road.
Lieutenant Winters, a 1985 graduate of Catonsville High School and who graduated first in his naval cadet class at Pensacola, Fla., was listed in serious condition yesterday at Rashid Hospital with a broken leg, broken arm, cuts to his face and a contusion to his brain, his parents said.
The brain injury does not appear to be severe and Lieutenant Winters, still under heavy sedation, has been able to communicate using hand motions, his father said. But he is temporarily unable to speak and has a tube down his throat to assist the oxygen flow to his brain, Mr. Winters said.
The Navy said it hopes to send Lieutenant Winters back to the United States a week from tomorrow.
"The most traumatic thing for him, I think, will be that all his crew mates died. They were very close," Mr. Winters said.
His mother said, "He would say to me, 'Think of grandma's kitchen and put four beds in there. That's us. We eat and sleep together.' "
Lieutenant Winters and the other three officers were stationed on the Guam-based supply ship USS White Plains. They regularly flew supply runs and search and rescue missions from the ship, which was docked in the gulf at the time of the accident. Their typical routine was flying supplies to aircraft carriers, cruisers and other ships, Mr. Winters said.
Lt. Jeffrey R. Roberts of Guam was among those killed. Names of the other two deceased will be released when their families have been notified, an official said.
The Navy is investigating what caused the crash.
Since joining the Navy four years ago, Lieutenant Winters has been to Korea and Singapore among other locations, his parents said.
Lieutenant Winters' interest in flying started as a young boy when the family was living in Munich, Germany, where his father was stationed as an employee of the Defense Department, Mrs. Winters recalled.
"He would watch the sail gliders go overhead and he would race after them on his bike to find out where they were coming from," she said. "He would quiz the pilots and ask them all sorts of questions. He was so interested in getting into the air."
He kept that interest as he grew up and started out flying solo at Martin State Airport in Essex. Despite the tragedy, the lieutenant's mother said, she doesn't think he will lose his love for flying.
"He's always said, 'I gotta fly, I gotta fly,' " his mother said.