Three Responders Killed in Ill. Medical Chopper Crash

Dec. 11--A medical helicopter crashed Monday night on its way to a hospital in Mendota, killing the pilot and two nurses on board, officials said.

The helicopter was registered to Rockford Memorial Hospital and was enroute to pick up a patient at Mendota Community Hospital, officials said.

The helicopter crashed about 8:30 p.m. in a field in the small town of Compton, near the city of Rochelle. The helicopter was destroyed in the crash, according to the FAA.

The Rockford hospital identified the helicopter's occupants as pilot Andy Olesen and flight nurses Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis.

"At Rockford Health System, our hearts are heavy," hospital spokesman Wester Wuori said in a statement. "We grieve the loss of three heroes who dedicated their careers to serving others."

On the hospital's Facebook page, hundreds of people, many of them paramedics and other emergency responders, offered their condolences to the victims' families.

Authorities established a staging area near the intersection of U.S. Route 30 and Illinois Route 251, a dispatcher with the Lee County Sheriff's Office said. The intersection lies between Rochelle and Mendota.

The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation into what caused the crash, according to the FAA.

The nurses and pilots who work in air ambulances are among the best trained in their fields, said Stephen Richey, a former flight respiratory therapist who lives in Indianapolis.

Pilots must be able to land on improvised landing sites on short notice, and the flight nurses on board often must deliver advance medical care to critically injured trauma patients.

The work draws those with years of experience and a deep commitment to helping patients, Richey said.

"You'll never find a more dedicated group of professionals in your entire life," Richey said.

Medical flight crews also face daily risks. Richey became an aviation safety researcher after losing several friends in crashes, he said.

In October 2008, a medical helicopter crashed after striking a radio tower in Aurora, killing three crew members and a 1-year-old girl.

Copyright 2012 - Chicago Tribune

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