Family reaction to Mercy Air Med federal report

KIMT News 3 – What happened on January 2nd, 2013, was a shock to the entire North Iowa community. A medical helicopter went down on a farm field, killing all three on board: Pilot, Gene Grell, Nurse, Shell Lair-Langenbau, and Paramedic, Russ Piehl.

Since that day, more than a year and a half ago, family members have waited for answers about what exactly caused the crash. So far, some are finding only frustration at the answers they’re being given.

Melody Piehl is the widow of Russ Piehl, who was the paramedic on board the Mercy Air Med flight. She says when something like this happens, you want answers. Therefore, in the year and a half since the crash, Piehl did plenty of investigating herself. She says the extent that investigators are focusing on the weather and pilot error is nothing but a disappointment.

“I answered the door, and the world as I knew it came to an end that night,” says Piehl.

That was more than a year ago for Melody Piehl. The messenger on the other side of the door brought her a tragic message that her husband, Russ had died along with two others in a tragic crash. She always thought by now she’d have answers.

“This report has so many holes in it and, so much inaccuracy,” says Piehl.

Looking at the new report from federal investigators, Melody is frustrated and feels what she’s reading doesn’t match what she’s found during her own research. She and Christina Gasparic, the fiancée of Pilot Gene Grell have several issues with the report. While the NTSB hasn’t released a probable cause of the crash yet, the report is focused on the weather conditions at the time, and Melody expects them to say the crash was due to pilot error.

“The discrepancies that we are concerned with immediately, would be that we do not even have confirmation whether or not the NTSB investigator even came to the scene. Also, that they say there were no maintenance record discrepancies when we have an FAA document showing there was a huge discrepancy dealing with the tail rotor and hanger bearings,” says Piehl.

The tail rotor was found 80 feet from the crash site. That’s just one of many issues she has with the investigation. So many, that Melody reached out to the NTSB, but they couldn’t give her an answer.

She’s hoping in this case, they look beyond the weather conditions and check out other things she and Christina have found. For instance, the hydraulic light was illuminated at the time of impact, which affects the power steering system.

This was not mentioned in the report. Piehl also noted two eye witness statements who noted a “thump” and “pop” before the aircraft descended. It all makes Piehl wonder if the industry is being short changed as well.

“We deserve the answers, and the industry deserves to have the answers, so they can make better safety changes,” says Piehl.

On a personal level, these women are still looking for answers.

“To me, I just think it’s nothing more than disrespectful. It’s hurtful to the families. We wait years and years, and then we have something presented to us that is supposed to be a factual report, when we can pick out the holes, and find the evidence to show differently, why can’t the NTSB do it?” says Piehl.

She tells us they will be petitioning for reconsideration from the NTSB. A representative with the federal agency says the crash is still under investigation.

Here is the link to the NTSB factual report:

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