HELICOPTER CRASH: Fatal Crash Cause Unknown

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Federal investigators are in northern Iowa trying to determine what caused a medical helicopter to crash, killing its three occupants.

Officials from Mercy Medical Center North Iowa and Med-Trans Corporation held a news conference Thursday morning in Mason City to release information about the crash.

It happened around 9:00 p.m. Wednesday night near Ventura during a trip to pick up a patient in Emmetsburg. Three people were killed when the Mercy Air Med helicopter went down in a field.

Nurse Shelly Lair-Lengenbau, paramedic Russell Piehl, and pilot Gene Grell did not survive the crash.

Officials with Med-Trans said the helicopter, which was a Bell 407, was current on all safety inspections. The chopper was also equipped with several safety measures including night vision goggles and terrain warning systems. They also say there was no SOS call from the pilot prior to the crash.

Dan Varnum, the President and CEO of Mercy North Iowa, says the cause of the crash is still unknown. Four agencies are investigating including the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, Med Trans and the Cerro Gordo Sheriff’s Office.

Lair-Lengenbau had been a nurse with Mercy for about 15 years.

Paramedic Russell Piehl had been with Mercy for about five years. Russ’s brother Gregg Piehl released a statement to media Thursday, in part saying, “My brother Russ died last night, doing what he loved to do most in this world. He was aboard a medical helicopter on it’s way to help someone in need when it crashed. How many of us left behind live our lives doing what we love? He told me more than once that this was God’s plan for him while on this earth.”

Pilot Gene Grell began working for Med-Trans in September of 2012. He was in the process of relocating to the Mason City area for the job.

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