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UPDATE: No Black Box in North Iowa Helicopter Crash, Pilot Identified

Posted at: 01/03/2013 1:02 AM
Updated at: 01/03/2013 9:16 PM

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Three people are dead after a medical helicopter flying out of Mason City, Iowa, crashed into a field Wednesday evening.  

THE CRASH
 
Officials say the crash occurred around 9 p.m. Wednesday in a rural area near Ventura.  The Helicopter was en route to a pick up a patient in Emmettsburg, IA.
 
There was not a patient on board.
 
At a late-morning press conference, officials said there was no black box recording device on the helicopter, however a GPS unity was installed.  All indications are that the heading and altitude appeared to be normal.
 
Data from the Mason City airport shows that at 9 p.m. the sky was mostly cloudy, air temperature was 27 degrees, and there was a North West wind at 9 mph.
 
Officials say all of the maintenance of the aircraft was in compliance.
 
Law enforcement and the FAA are investigating.
 
THE VICTIMS
    
Officials at Mercy Medical Center say there were three people onboard, two medical personnel and a pilot.
 
Shelly Lair-Langenbau, 44, a nurse, had worked at Mercy for 15 years. She is also the wife of Worth County Sheriff Jay Langenbau.
 
Russell Piehl, 48, a paramedic, worked for Mercy for the last five years.
 
Gene Grell, 53, the pilot, worked for Med-Trans, the company who operated the helicopter. Officials say Grell is not from the Mason City area.
 
In a statement, Mercy North Iowa's President/CEO Dan Varnum said, “I know their colleagues in healthcare are grieving the loss with their loved ones. 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 healthcare professionals devoted to the delivery of emergency medical care. While they fulfilled significant duties, they played a greater role as our neighbors and friends,” he said. 
 
Mercy says it's team is hurting right now, and religious leaders will be made available to those who seek counseling.
 
THE PROGRAM
 
Mercy Medical Center North Iowa has been in service since 1999.  
 

It is now operated by Med-Trans Corporation, out of Dallas, TX.  According to the company's website, they operate approximately 60 aircraft in 18 states.
 
There are approximately 10 medical staff on the Mercy flight crew, who service a 14 county area.  They make 500 flights a year, including 327 patient transports.
 
Officials say the last crash involving a Med-Trans helicopter was in 2004, under a different management company. There has not been a crash of this type in North Iowa.
 
Due to Wednesday's crash, the program will be temporarily suspended.
 
ABC 6 News will continue to follow this tragic and developing story.