The head of a Mason City hospital calls this “a very tragic time” following last night’s medical helicopter crash in a northern Iowa field that killed the crew of three. Dan Varnum, president of Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa, confirms those killed are: pilot Gene Grell, nurse Shelly Lair-Langenbau and paramedic Russell Piehl.

“They, like all Mercy employees, were selfless health care workers who gave their lives to really providing care for others each and every day,” he says.  Fred Buttrell is president of Air-Med, which runs the helicopter service.

Buttrell says the Texas-based company has 50 outlets all across the country and makes 50,000 flights a year. He says this is the company’s first serious incident since 2004.

He says the Bell 407 helicopter was put in service new in April of 2011 and it was in full compliance with all of its maintenance and safety checks.  “The aircraft was equipped with all of the latest technology, night-vision goggles, avoidance and warning systems,” Buttrell says.

“The aircraft did not have the quote black box but it did have a satellite tracking system that monitored aircraft positioning and aircraft information that will be used as part of the download of the investigation.” The chopper crashed near Ventura about 9 P.M. as it was flying from Mason City to Emmetsburg to pick up a patient.

The cause of the accident is unknown. The F.A.A. and local law enforcement officials are investigating.