MASON CITY, Iowa --- The cause of a Mercy Air Med helicopter crash late Wednesday has not yet been determined, officials of Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa and Med-Trans Corp. said Thursday at a news conference.

The accident, which occurred at about 9 p.m. Wednesday north of Ventura, resulted in the deaths of all three on board, including flight nurse Shelly Lair-Langenbau, 44, Hanlontown; paramedic Russell Piehl, 48, Forest City, and pilot Gene Grell, 53, an employee of Med-Trans since September 2012. A hometown for Grell was not yet available.

Piehl is a former Waterloo resident. Here is a death notice on him provided to the Courier:

  • WATERLOO, Iowa --- Russell Piehl, 48, of Forest City, formerly of Waterloo, died Wednesday, Jan. 2, from injuries sustained in a Mercy Hospital helicopter crash west of Mason City; Petersen Lund Funeral Home, Forest City, (641) 585-2685.

Russell was employed with Covenant Medical Center from June 2004 until September 2005.

No patient was on board. The helicopter was en route to Emmetsburg to pick up a patient.

“Obviously this is a very tragic time for Mercy-North Iowa, the North Iowa community and the Iowa health care community,” Mercy President/CEO Dan Varnum said.

“Our thoughts now go out to our fallen associates and their colleagues. They were selfless health care workers who gave their lives for the health care of others.”

Fred Buttrell, president/CEO of Med-Trans Corp., arrived from Dallas, Texas, in time for the 11 a.m. news conference. He said the helicopter was new in 2011 and had been checked out prior to the flight.

There was no SOS call from the helicopter prior to the crash, Buttrell said.

“This is gut-wrenching,” he said.

The helicopter was equipped with the latest in helicopter EMS technology, including night vision goggles and a satellite tracking system, Buttrell said.

“We’re very proud of this program,” he said. “Safety is at the forefront of all our endeavors.”

Mercy-North Iowa entered into partnership with Med-Trans to provide helicopter service in February 2011.

Mercy-North Iowa averages 500 Air Med flights a year. It is the first helicopter accident the hospital has experienced.

Med-Trans has experienced only one accident, in 2004, when the company was under different ownership, Buttrell said.

The crash is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration. The helicopter came down about two miles northwest of the intersection of Balsam Avenue and 260th Street in rural Ventura.

Lair-Langenbau is the wife of Worth County Sheriff Jay Langenbau, according to Globe Gazette files.

“I know their colleagues in health care are grieving the loss with their loved ones,” Dan Varnum, president and CEO of Mercy-North Iowa, said earlier in a news release. “The entire organization and I send prayers to all who knew them. They were committed and dedicated to serving the people of Northern Iowa and southern Minnesota.

“They were each selfless health care professionals devoted to the delivery of emergency medical care," Varnum said in a statement. "While they fulfilled significant duties, they played a greater role as our neighbors and friends.”

The Mercy press release said Mercy-North Iowa is working closely with law enforcement officials and the FAA in investigating the accident.

Members of Mercy-North Iowa’s Spiritual Care Department and counselors were available Wednesday and will continue to be available to provide support, the release said.

A Globe Gazette photographer at the scene Wednesday night said ATVs and snowmobiles were also being used by emergency responders to get to the crash site.

Butch Kozisek of Ventura said he saw the helicopter crash.

“I seen one heck of an explosion,” Kozisek said Wednesday night.

He said he was startled by the sound of the chopper.

“Me and the wife were looking out the window and wondering what it was and then the sound quit for about a second or two and then just a big ball of fire at ground level.”

Kozisek said he lives about three-quarters of a mile from the crash site.

He said there was no evidence of fire while the helicopter was still in the air.

KarrieJo VanderPloeg, of rural Clear Lake, said she was on her way home with her family when they “saw the sky light up.”

She said it was scary because they didn’t know what it was.

They drove on gravel roads until they came upon the crash site.

VanderPloeg said they saw someone walking around with a flashlight, but they didn’t get out of the car because their children were with them.

Patti Peterson, director of the Mercy Emergency Department, Mercy Air Med and Mercy Family Health Line, said when the contract was announced, "Med-Trans is one of the nation's leading air medical services and has an excellent safety record. Med-Trans has partnered with numerous hospitals across the country to provide the highest level of aviation support for superior MedEvac operations."

The company provides the helicopter, pilots and other personnel. The helicopter features the latest EMS technology and safety features, including night vision goggles and satellite communication technology. It is also faster and has a longer range than the previous Mercy North-Iowa helicopter.

The helicopter accommodates one patient and three crew members: a nurse, a paramedic and a pilot.

 

Earlier: Details released about emergency personnel killed in helicopter crash


VENTURA, Iowa --- The two emergency personnel killed in the Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa Air Med medical helicopter crash Wednesday night near Ventura were frequent team partners on emergency response flights, colleagues said Thursday morning.

Paramedic Russ Piehl of Forest City and nurse Shell Lair-Langenbau of Hanlontown “were inseparable,” said Dale Rayhons, a paramedic with the city of Forest City. “They teamed up on flights quite often.”

Piehl was also a part-time paramedic for the city of Forest City and a member of the Forest City Ambulance Association. Lair-Langenbau is the wife of Worth County Sheriff Jay Langenbau.

“There is a piece missing now,” Beth Aschenbrener, a paramedic with the city of Forest City.

The two paramedics praised Piehl and Lair-Langenbau for their skills.

“She was a hell of a nurse,” Aschenbrener said of Lair-Langenbau.

“(Piehl) was knowledgeable,” Rayhons said. “He knew (Emergency Services Management) inside and out. He knew paramedics inside and out.”

“(Lair-Langenbau) was another one that was very knowledgeable and very meticulous in her work,” Aschenbrener said.

Mindy Baker, an Algona EMS volunteer, worked with Piehl during his time as administrator of the Algona Emergency Medical Services ambulance. He served there from 2006-2010.

“When Russ walked into an emergency room to take a critical patient, he immediately took charge. No matter how bad it was, he took the time to talk to the patient’s family and comfort them, let them know that his priority was the safe transport and dedicated care of their loved one.

“He loved being a flight paramedic and helping people. His passion for emergency medicine was evident in everything he did,” Baker said.

She said under his leadership, Algona EMS went from a paramedic provisional service to a full-time paramedic available service, which improved care throughout Kossuth County.

“There is nobody I know who loved doing what they did more than Russ,” she said.

Algona EMS Director Gary Merrill said Piehl’s impact was profound.

“During the few years that Russ served as administrator of Algona EMS, he brought decades worth of advances to the service.

“He expanded our protocols by leaps and bounds and he raised the level of care we are able to provide to our citizens.

“On a personal note, Russ was a mentor to me, and more importantly, a friend."

 

Earlier: Three people killed in helicopter crash near Ventura


VENTURA, Iowa -- Three people were killed when Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa’s Air Med helicopter crashed north of Ventura Wednesday evening.

Jodi Ball, a Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa spokesperson, confirmed that the Mason City hospital-based helicopter had crashed while en route to Emmetsburg to pick up a patient. She said the hospital staff was "devastated" upon hearing of the incident.

The three people on board — a nurse, Shelly "Shell" Lair-Langenbau; a paramedic, Russell "Russ" Piehl of Forest City; and a pilot with Med-Trans, the helicopter service — were killed in the crash, according to a press release from Mercy-North Iowa. There was no patient on board.

Lair-Langenbau is the wife of Worth County Sheriff Jay Langenbau, according to Globe Gazette files.

“I know their colleagues in health care are grieving the loss with their loved ones,” said Dan Varnum, president and CEO of Mercy-North Iowa. “The entire organization and I send prayers to all who knew them. They were committed and dedicated to serving the people of Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota.

“They were each selfless health care professionals devoted to the delivery of emergency medical care," Varnum said in a statement. "While they fulfilled significant duties, they played a greater role as our neighbors and friends.”

Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Kevin Pals, who had earlier confirmed the deaths but did not release the names of the persons killed, said the cause of the accident is not known, and the Federal Aviation Administration will be investigating.

The Mercy press release said that Mercy-North Iowa is working closely with law enforcement officials and the FAA in investigating the accident.

Members of Mercy-North Iowa’s Spiritual Care Department and counselors were available Wednesday and will continue to be available to provide support, the release said.

Emergency vehicles were gathered about half a mile west of the intersection of 260th Street and Balsam Avenue after the crash was reported about 9 p.m. Wednesday.

A Globe Gazette photographer at the scene said ATVs and snowmobiles were also being used by emergency responders to get to the crash site.

Butch Kozisek of Ventura said he saw the helicopter crash.

“I seen one heck of an explosion,” Kozisek said Wednesday night.

He said he was startled by the sound of the chopper.

“Me and the wife were looking out the window and wondering what it was and then the sound quit for about a second or two and then just a big ball of fire at ground level.”

Kozisek said he lives about three-quarters of a mile from the crash site.

He said there was no evidence of fire while the helicopter was still in the air.

KarrieJo VanderPloeg, of rural Clear Lake, said she was on her way home with her family when they “saw the sky light up.”

She said it was scary because they didn’t know what it was.

They drove on gravel roads until they came upon the crash site.

VanderPloeg said they saw someone walking around with a flashlight, but they didn’t get out of the car because their children were with them.

According to Globe Gazette files, Mercy-North Iowa’s latest helicopter was put into service in Mason City in April 2011.

Med-Trans Corp., headquartered in Dallas, entered into a contract with Mercy-North Iowa to provide air service on Feb. 1, 2011. The hospital said the decision to go with the company followed a 12-month selection process.

Dr. Matthew Schiller, medical director of the Mercy Emergency Department, said at the time the contract was announced that the company "has an excellent safety record."

Patti Peterson, director of the Mercy Emergency Department, Mercy Air Med and Mercy Family Health Line, said when the contract was announced, "Med-Trans is one of the nation's leading air medical services and has an excellent safety record. Med-Trans has partnered with numerous hospitals across the country to provide the highest level of aviation support for superior MedEvac operations."

The company provides the helicopter, pilots and other personnel. The helicopter features the latest EMS technology and safety features, including night vision goggles and satellite communication technology. It is also faster and has a longer range than the previous Mercy North-Iowa helicopter.

The helicopter accommodates one patient and three crew members: a nurse, a paramedic and a pilot.

(1) comment

justthefacts

RIP... Thank you for your service....

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