The investigation continues into the fatal crash of the Mason City-based medical helicopter north of Ventura last night. The helicopter crashed at about nine o’clock near the intersection of County Road S-14 and 260th Street as it was flying from Mason City to Emmetsburg to pick up a patient.
Two Mercy-North Iowa Medical Center employees, nurse Shelly Lair-Langenbau and paramedic Russell Piehl, as well as the pilot of the helicopter Gene Grell, died in the accident. The helicopter is owned by Med-Trans of Dallas Texas, a company that has partnered to provide helicopter service for Mercy since April 2011.
Mercy CEO Dan Varnum says the Mercy family is mourning the loss of the crew which he called “selfless healthcare workers that gave their lives to providing care for others each and every day.” Med-Trans CEO Fred Buttrell says it’s the company’s first major incident since an accident in 2004 when the company was under different ownership.
“We are very proud of the program, we are a very family-based atmosphere that is professionally run. And what makes this so hard is that safety is the forefront of all their endeavors from equipment, personnel, training control measures that we put in place for every phase of flight. So this is gut wrenching,” Buttrell says.
Buttrell says the Bell 407 helicopter was factory new when Med-Trans became Mercy’s air partner in April 2011 and had 955 total hours of air flight. Buttrell says safety is always at the forefront of their program. He says the pilot always had the final say on whether or not to accept the mission, they always had a saying “three to go, one to say no” so if anyone was not comfortable accepting the mission, it would not go.
Buttrell says they’re not going to guess right now what caused the crash and wait for the investigation to be completed. “We’re not going to speculate at this time about what unfolded, and our primary concern is working with the family members, extended crew members to provide the love and support that is necessary for all of us to get through this time,” according to Buttrell.
Varnum says Mercy is committed to continuing their helicopter service once another helicopter is in place and crews are ready to fly again.
By Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City