Public memorial service for 3 killed in helicopter crash - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Public memorial service for 3 killed in helicopter crash


MASON CITY, Iowa (KTTC) -- On a flight to Emmetsburg, Iowa only one week ago, a Mercy Air Med helicopter crashed near Ventura, Iowa, claiming the lives of the three people on board. Thursday in Mason City, the victims were honored as heroes.

The front of the program at their memorial service read "Honoring our Mercy Air Med Heroes," and they did just that.

"These three individuals embody their wonderful Iowa characteristics to help others in their type of need," said Dan Varnum, the CEO of Mercy Medical Center North Iowa to begin his portion of the memorial.

A week of struggle and heartbreak now culminates in a moment of honor in Mason City.

Nurse Shelly Lair-Langenbau, paramedic Russ Piehl and pilot Gene Grell lost their lives doing what many said was their true passion of helping others and saving lives.

"We're the rescuers, we're here to take care of other people," says Joseph Ferrell with the Iowa Bureau of Emergency Management Services. "We're here to respond to their request for help. We don't think about it happening to members of our own EMS family."

For the line of work that they were in, a public memorial seemed to be the perfect way to say goodbye.

"We are grateful for the outpouring of support that has come for all of the team member's family members," explains Fred Buttrell, the President and CEO of Med-Trans Corporation, "and I can tell you that the spirit of North Iowa is real."

Those in the line of public service throughout Iowa were in attendance to pay tribute to their fallen colleagues, giving comfort to friends, family and those closest to Shelly, Russ and Gene.

"They each had a great passion for their work," Varnum shared, "but my sense from the conversations I've had is that none of them really saw it as work, but it was their calling. It was what they did."

A community in mourning, but in one simultaneous moment, a community united.

"Oh, I've slipped the surely bounds of Earth and danced on the sky and laughter-silvered wings," Buttrell says, paraphrasing the poem "High Flight." He finished with, "Somewhere I have climbed, joining the tumbling mirth. I've put out my hand and touched the face of God."

Hundreds were in attendance to honor Shelly, Gene and Russ and this is a community that will certainly never forget what these three people did and what other flight crews do across the country.

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