Three people are in critical condition after this North Memorial Care helicopter crashed into the trees at 1438 Lakeside Drive on the east side of Lake Winona in Alexandria early Saturday morning.
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It's so easy to take for granted all those who respond to emergency situations.
Ambulance crews are like electricity. They're expected to be there, no matter the time of day or night, no matter the conditions. Instead of flipping a switch, those who urgently need medical care call 911. Within seconds, help is on the way.
It happened again on a foggy Saturday morning about 2 a.m.
North Memorial Health Care responded to a call to transport a patient from the Douglas County Hospital to another medical facility to receive specialized care.
This time, however, something went wrong.
The helicopter crashed along Lake Winona, north of the Alexandria Municipal Airport.
The pilot, a flight nurse and a flight paramedic survived the crash and as of Monday, remained hospitalized at North Memorial Hospital in the Twin Cities. No patients were on board.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
The incident should invoke a jolt of appreciation from everyone in the community about how much we depend on ambulance crews and how we expect them to be there 24/7. It should open people's eyes to the fact that anytime ambulance personnel — in the air or on the ground — respond to an emergency situation, those involved put their lives on the line. Every time they go out on a call, they face risks — mechanical breakdowns, bad drivers on the road, less-than-ideal conditions and unexpected twists that can put their lives in peril.
The risk is real. There were seven air ambulance accidents across the U.S. in 2011 to 2013, which resulted in 19 fatalities, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. In 2010, the Wall Street Journal listed air ambulance at the most dangerous job in America. Thankfully, FAA initiatives and technological advancements are making headway in reducing the risks.
The incident also shines light on the task of rescuing the rescuers. Those who responded to the crash scene did an excellent job in helping the helicopter crew get the medical care they needed.
When the Douglas County Hospital was notified of the crash, it immediately activated its emergency response plan, calling in staff to assist in the response.
Carl Vaagenes, the hospital's CEO, said he was extremely proud of the response and performance from hospital staff and physicians who were working, and everyone who responded to the emergency. This included Douglas County Sheriff's dispatchers and deputies, Alexandria Police Department, Alexandria Fire Department, Valley Med Flight and Life Link.
In a statement, North Memorial also expressed its gratitude: "We would like to thank our fellow health care colleagues and first responders for their amazing response. ... We would also like to thank all of the health care professionals, EMS agencies, police agencies and fire departments for the support we have received from across the nation."
The community, in return, should also be thankful of all those who put their lives on the line to help save the lives of others.
Agusta A109S Grand, N91NM, North Memorial Health Care: Accident occurred September 17, 2016 near Chandler Field Airport (KAXN), Alexandria, Douglas County, Minnesota
NORTH MEMORIAL HEALTH CARE: http://registry.faa.gov/N91NM
FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Minneapolis FSDO-15
NTSB Identification: CEN16FA372
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Saturday, September 17, 2016 in Alexandria, MN
Aircraft: AGUSTA A109, registration: N91NM
Injuries: 1 Serious.
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
On September 17, 2016, at 0207 central daylight time, an Agusta S.p.A A109S helicopter, N91NM, impacted trees and terrain near Chandler Field Airport (AXN), Alexandria, Minnesota. The commercial rated pilot and two crew members sustained serious injuries and the helicopter was destroyed. The helicopter was registered to North Memorial Health Care, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and operated by North Memorial Medical Center under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 as a positioning flight. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan had been filed. The helicopter departed Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport (BRD), Brainerd, Minnesota about 0135 and was destined for the Douglas County Hospital helipad, Alexandria, Minnesota.
The pilot stated that he received a call for a flight request about 0100, accepted the flight, and then filed an IFR flight plan to AXN. He was in radio contact with air traffic control (ATC), but radar contact was lost about half way through the flight. About 20 miles from AXN he noticed clouds quickly forming underneath the helicopter. The pilot was cleared for and attempted the RNAV GPS 22 approach to AXN as clouds were still forming beneath the helicopter. The pilot initiated a missed approach by utilizing the "go around" function of the helicopters autopilot. During the missed approach, the helicopter made an uncommanded left bank followed by a right bank. The pilot attempted to counteract the bank by applying opposite cyclic control.
The helicopter impacted several tall trees and then the ground and continued into a wooded area. Several nearby residents were awake at the time of the accident and heard the helicopters engines and then the sound of the impact. Two other witnesses were outside of their homes east of the airport and observed the helicopter flying overhead prior to the accident.
At 0201, the AXN weather observation recorded wind from 290 degrees at 10 knots, 9 miles visibility, scattered clouds at 400 ft, broken clouds at 3,600 ft, temperature 57 degrees F, dew point 57 degrees F, and altimeter setting 29.87 inches of mercury.
At 0209, the AXN weather observation recorded wind from 290 degrees at 12 knots, 4 miles visibility, mist, broken clouds at 300 ft, temperature 57 degrees F, dew point 57 degrees F, and altimeter setting 29.87 inches of mercury.
The helicopter has been retained for further examination.