A North Memorial Air Care pilot and a nurse were killed following an early Friday morning helicopter crash in Brainerd.
Three North Memorial Health crew members, who officials said worked in the Brainerd area, were on board when the helicopter crashed at 1 a.m. Friday, June 28, at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. There were no patients on the helicopter at the time of the crash.
Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard said a pilot and a nurse were reported dead at the scene of the crash. A third crew member was transported to Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd and their condition was unknown as of Friday afternoon.
The names of the helicopter crew involved in the crash were not released Friday. Calls to a North Memorial Medical Center spokesperson were not returned.
Steve Wright, Brainerd airport director, said details on the helicopter’s flight information or what led to the crash was unknown. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were notified and are investigating the crash. Wright said the helicopter crashed in the middle of the airport, where the runways intersect. The National Weather Service in Duluth had issued a dense fog advisory early Friday morning for Brainerd, but it was not known whether that played a role in the crash.
“We have a lot of questions on this event that happened this morning,” Wright said later Friday morning. “We’re not sure if they were coming or going.
“We are a small airport community and we deal with these medical helicopters who are part of the emergency management system. So when our emergency responders respond to these types of events, it really hits close to home. These team members of the North Memorial crews and the other airport crews around here put their lives on the line for the community to be safe. ... We are asking for thoughts and prayers for these families and surviving members and those who are connected with these people who put their lives on the line day in and day out.”
Goddard said, “Our hearts and prayers go out to all involved. We work with all our emergency service responders on a daily basis and everybody is one big, very close knit family and this strikes us at the heart of what we do. This is an unfortunate tragedy.”
The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Brainerd police and fire department and the Baxter Police Department responded to the accident.
Wright said the airport will remain operational as the FAA and NTSB perform their investigations. The airport will still have its ribbon-cutting open house from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday on its new general aviation terminal. The open house will feature speakers including local government leaders and a special appearance by Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
A prayer vigil for the victims of the crash is scheduled at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 30, at Whipple Beach Recreational Area in Baxter. In case of inclement weather, the vigil will be held under the shelter at the park.
The last known crash of a North Memorial Air Care helicopter was Sept. 16, 2016. The helicopter and its crew of three crashed near the edge of Lake Winona in Alexandria, about 86 miles southwest of Brainerd. All three Brainerd-based North Memorial crew members were hospitalized in critical condition at North Memorial in Robbinsdale.
A North Memorial spokesperson stated after the 2016 crash it has been flying for more than 30 years and none of its helicopters have ever crashed. North Memorial owns Agusta helicopters, which fly at speeds up to 200 mph and are known to be the fastest civilian helicopters on the market.
North Memorial Air Care has bases in Brainerd, Bemidji, Princeton, Redwood Falls and Lakeville. North Memorial owns two hospitals in the Twin Cities metro area, including North Memorial Level 1 Medical Center in Robbinsdale, and has ground ambulance stations in Brainerd, Brooklyn Center and other cities throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin.