BAXTER-It has been a rough few days for the North Memorial Health Hospital Ambulance and Air Care crew, after Friday's tragic helicopter crash in Brainerd, killing two of its own and seriously injuring another.
A prayer vigil for the victims of the helicopter crash was hosted Sunday, June 30, at Whipple Beach Recreational Area in Baxter to start the healing process. About 200 people attended, including emergency personnel from fire, police, emergency services, along with community members and a contingent from North Memorial Ambulance.
"I want the community to know that we really appreciate their support," said Kevin Lee, North Memorial Ambulance manager. "Obviously, this has been a difficult situation for the entire North Memorial family and for all the other first responders in our area ... It's been a tough few days here. This is really helpful to all the responders in this area."
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KLICK! Photo Gallery - Vigil for North Memorial Helicopter Crash
A prayer vigil for the victims in Friday’s North Memorial Air Care helicopter crash Sunday, June 30, at Whipple Beach Recreation Area in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
15 photos - Klick to view!
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A North Memorial Agusta medical helicopter crashed about 1 a.m. Friday at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. North Memorial reported the pilot Tim McDonald and flight nurse Debra K. Schott died at the scene; and paramedic Josh Duda was taken to St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd, then to North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale.
At the vigil, Mike Pluimer read a statement by the Duda family, stating, "Josh is a fighter with an iron will. His strength and determination have always served him well and will continue to do so in the weeks to come. Your thoughts and prayers have meant so much, not only to the family but to Josh and yes he has read every one of them."
Pluimer said Duda is an Ironman athlete and was training for the Ironman triathlon consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run in that order.
"There is something about Ironman athletes," Pluimer said. "We probably have a few screws loose in our head ... We have a lot of guts and determination. As Tommy Lasorda says, 'The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a man's determination.'"
According to a Facebook post at 11:01 a.m. Saturday, addressed to "Ironman Wisconsin 140.6/70.3 Training Secrets," stated: "Josh, himself, gave me permission to update everyone! He's awake, but still has a breathing tube in. External fixator on his left leg. Moving everything and smiling. I told him everyone sends their thoughts and prayers."
Pastor Lynfield Hines of The Journey North, who also is the Brainerd Fire Department Chaplain, read a psalm for the two people who lost their lives and for the hospitalized Duda during the vigil before a moment of silence.
Hines said: "God is our refuge and strength and ever present. That means he is well proved, he is there for us to help us. ... Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. ... The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress, meaning no matter what happens on this earth. The God of the universe is with us, for us and going before us. So take courage in this time of sorrow. Mourn yes, but also take courage that God is in control."
Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said the vigil was an opportunity for all the emergency service agencies who partner together to come together and start the healing process. Holmes said the vigil is a way for everyone to be there to support Duda, who has a long road in recovering ahead of him, and to support the families of McDonald and Schott, who lost their lives. All three not only were part of the medical world, but also took part in public relations and community events with the public.
Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard said it is nice to see the community and all the emergency services people come together at the vigil.
"Just for everyone to take a breath and appreciate each other, not only for the job we do but also for the personal relationships we have," Goddard said of the vigil. "We have to start the slow but steady healing process and to get back on our feet and to continue to work.
"I hate to say this, but in instances like this it really drives the point home that we are a family and it makes us work better together and makes us more appreciative of what we have."
Pillager Fire and Rescue Chief Greg Ringler, along with six firefighters, came to the vigil to offer support for the North Memorial family.
"We wanted to come together and pray to God that Josh has some healing and to come together for the families who lost people," Ringer said. "We are kind of a family of rescuers, so it is meaningful to see so many people here."
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said it was nice to see a great turnout for the vigil. He said it was a chance for everyone to come together and support the emergency responders.
Those who know Duda through the Ironton triathlon and the Lakes Area Multisport group also showed their support to North Memorial members.
Jessica DeShaw of Brainerd, who is training for her first Ironman triathlon, has known Duda, who also is training for the triathlon, for about three years.
"Josh was one of my biggest supporters when I started training for the Ironman," DeShaw said. "He is a very giving person and if he can encourage you in any way with a kind word or thought he will. He is a fantastic training partner, and it's always fun to have him around."
Also from the community in attendance was John and Sandra Monroe of Brainerd. The couple had just met Schott at the Air Care base in Brainerd earlier this month. The Monroes and their friends John and Karla Milinovich visited North Memorial Ambulance and Air Care crew, as Karla Milinovich wanted to thank staff for saving her life more than once.
"We went out to show our appreciation for Karla's deal and Deb was on duty that day," John Monroe said. "She was just such a sweetheart of a gal. It just brings tears to my eyes thinking about it."
Sandra Monroe said knowing what the North Memorial staff do every day, in serving others the news of McDonald and Schott's passing is so much more tragic.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to all their families and the community ... this is just awful, sad," she said.
According to Minnesota Public Radio, McDonald was based at North Memorial Air Care's facility in Siren, Wis., and is survived by his wife and four children, according to an online fundraiser established for the family.
Schott, 58, of Lester Prairie, was first licensed as a practical nurse in 1980, when she was 19 years old. The Minnesota Board of Nursing database says she first received a license to work as a registered nurse in 1994.
According to her obituary, Schott is survived by her husband Gary Schott, two children and two grandchildren and two step-children and seven step-grandchildren and a beloved pet dog.
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.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. According to the FAA website, it states the 2008 Agusta crashed under unknown circumstances.
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This story was corrected at 10:56 a.m. Monday, July 1, 2019, to remove an incorrectly attributed statement.