A pilot and a nurse were killed and a flight paramedic was seriously injured when a North Memorial Air Care helicopter crashed in June at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
The crash claimed the life of the pilot, Tim McDonald, 44, of Bloomington, and flight nurse Debra Schott, 58, of Lester Prairie, who both died at the scene. Pillager resident Josh Duda was the flight paramedic who suffered serious injuries in the crash. Duda, who worked for the hospital’s Brainerd-based Air Care unit for almost 20 years, was taken to Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd after the crash, and then to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.
Duda was released from the hospital Aug. 15, the day a benefit dinner and silent auction was hosted in his honor in Brainerd. More than 1,000 people attended to show their support to Duda and his family. The Pillager man continues to recover from his injuries at his home with help from his wife Amy, their son Kian and two cats — Cosmo and Zeus.
“Things didn’t go the way they normally would go as planned,” Duda told the Dispatch in August while in the Robbinsdale hospital recovering. “We ended up on the ground, on a hard-impacting crash, and that is when my world turned upside down.”
The National Transportation Safety Board reported in its preliminary report foggy conditions led to the fatal helicopter crash. The medical helicopter crashed on its return to the airport after delivering a patient to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. There were no patients on board at the time of the crash.
As the aircraft descended from an altitude of 6,000 feet, the report stated Duda, who was sitting in the left forward seat, recalled seeing the runway surface and lights below a thin layer of fog.
“He noticed a few clouds to the side of the helicopter and recalled the pilot remarking that the weather conditions were foggy, and they would need to go around. He subsequently noticed the helicopter spin to the right and impact the ground,” the report states.
The helicopter landed in a grassy area to the right of the runway.
Although investigators state the helicopter was upright and nearly intact after the crash, they also report parts of it — including the main body and tail — “exhibited crushing consistent with a high velocity vertical descent.”
Duda is a 1995 Brainerd High School graduate and son of Gary and Sue Duda of Brainerd. He also is an Ironman athlete who competed in four triathlons, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Duda competed in his first Ironman triathlon in 2007 and he was training for the next Ironman competition before the tragic crash.
Duda said McDonald was not a regular pilot at the Brainerd base, but he had flown with him a few times previously. Schott, the nurse, was a regular partner of Duda’s for 14 years.
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