HELICOPTER CRASH: Victims Praised

Some details are emerging about the medical helicopter crash in northern Iowa.

The Air-Med chopper from Mercy North in Mason City went down around 9 p.m. Wednesday just north of the town of Ventura.

There was no warning of any problem from the crew before the aircraft suddenly went down and burst into flames.

Investigators do not know what caused the helicopter to crash.

All three people on board were killed in the crash; pilot Gene Grell, nurse Shelly Lair-Langenbau and paramedic Russell Piehl.

Shelly Lair-Langenbau is the wife of Worth County Sheriff Jay Langenbau.

Piehl’s family says he gave his life doing what he loved.

“That was his dream all along was to be a flight paramedic and so he did that,” recounts brother, Gregg Piehl, “he was just excellent at his job and he loved what he did and you know, last night when we got the call, part of me, part of me was sad but the other part of me was ya know, glad because he lived his life.”

Piehl was not only a flight paramedic; he also worked part-time as a paramedic for the town of Forest City.

It’s was a day of sadness at the hospital with staff and even patients leaning on each other to try to get through the tragedy

“Even our patients have been wonderful and it’s just been a day where everybody’s just tried to take care of each other,” said director of the Mercy Emergency Department, Patti Peterson, “I think we’ll be doing that for several days coming.”

For Patti, this is personal.  She didn’t just lose three co-workers today, she lost three friends.  In a small hospital like this people get to know one-another.  They’re like family.

“Shell is, she’s a tall gorgeous blonde.  I think of shell, I think of someone who pays close attention to detail.”

“The thing about Russ that sticks out is, in a department such as this, sometimes you have stressful situations that you’re under with very sick patients, he was the one with the sense of humor that could make anybody laugh.”

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.

As a hospital, they can’t just close down to mourn.  But staffers say they can rely on each-other to pick up extra shifts, or even to just sit down and talk to try to get through this together.

This is third ever fatal crash involving an air ambulance in Iowa. The last one happened in 1998.

Three people were killed when their chopper crashed into a bean field near Spencer while the aircraft was en route to pick up a passenger.

In March of 1980, Iowa Methodist Life Flight crashed near Webster City. The pilot and two nurses were killed.

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