WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federal investigators are releasing much more information about the circumstances surrounding a north Iowa helicopter crash that claimed three medical workers’ lives.
The Mercy Air Med helicopter crashed into a farm field north of Ventura at 9:57 p.m. on January 2, 2013. Pilot, Gene Grell, nurse, Shelly Lair-Langenbau, and paramedic, Russ Piehl were flying from Mercy Medical Center North Iowa to a hospital in Emmetsburg to pick up a patient.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been investigating since soon after the crash, and while they have not made a determination of the probable cause of the crash, they did release a full factual report Monday detailing the information on which probable cause will be determined.
Throughout the report, investigators focus on weather conditions at the time of the crash. Pilots in other aircraft that evening reported freezing precipitation, and several witnesses reported ice-covered roads. An Airman Meteorological Information (AIRMET) advisory for icing was in effect for the route of flight, as well.
According to the report, “Witnesses and first responders reported mist, drizzle, and icy road conditions at the time of the accident. One first responder reported observing a police car slide through a roadway intersection due to the slick conditions while responding to the accident site.”
Investigators also looked into the Bell helicopter’s worthiness for flight in such conditions.
“The helicopter was not certificated for intentional flight into known icing conditions,” the report states. “The helicopter was equipped with heated pitot and static ports; however, the rotor blades were not equipped with ice protection”
Grell’s flight experience is also discussed. Grell completed a new hire training program with Med-Trans Corporation in September 2012, with night vision goggle training three days later.
“At the time of his initial employment, the pilot reported having accumulated a total flight time of 2,808 hours, with 2,720 hours in helicopters,” the report states. “Of that total flight time, 248 hours were at night.”
Toxicology results were negative.
Lair-Langenbau’s family has filed a federal lawsuit against Med-Trans Corporation, the operator of the helicopter service. That suit is on hold until the NTSB’s full investigation is released.