Foggy conditions on June 28 were noted in a preliminary report on the fatal helicopter crash at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
A preliminary report released Monday, July 8, by the National Transportation Safety Board details the events leading up to the North Memorial Air Care helicopter crash that killed a pilot and flight nurse and seriously injured a flight paramedic.
The Agusta medical helicopter crashed about 1 a.m. June 28 on its return to the airport after delivering a patient to the 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 states paramedic Josh 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 pilot Tim McDonald was flying using instrument flight rules, meaning he was navigating through instruments in the helicopter’s cockpit.
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.”
There was no evidence of a post-crash fire, but a portion of the ground was soaked in fuel.
An arc-shaped ground scar, consistent with a main rotor blade strike, was found to the left of the helicopter’s body. The outboard section of one tail rotor blade was found about 200 feet southwest of the helicopter. A 7-inch deep ground scar was located underneath the tail rotor and exhibited evidence of multiple tail rotor blade strikes.
There was no exhibit evidence of foreign object debris ingestion in the engines.
A cockpit image recording device, engine data collection and a satellite communications unit were all recovered from the wreckage and transported to the NTSB in Washington, D.C., for examination. The wreckage was also recovered for post-crash examination.
The NTSB traveled to the scene of the crash.
McDonald and flight nurse Debra Schott died at the scene of the June 28 crash. Duda, a Brainerd lakes area resident, was taken to Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd after the crash, and then to North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale.
McDonald, 44, a resident of Bloomington, was based at North Memorial Air Care’s facility in Siren, Wisconsin, and is survived by his wife, Crystal and four children, according to a GoFundMe page set up in his honor. His obituary states he was a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College and served as a Blackhawk pilot in the U.S. Army, completing two combat tours in Iraq before leaving to fulfill his dream of being a medevac pilot. He also earned his Master of Business Administration degree from Oklahoma State University.
Schott, 58, of Lester Prairie, graduated nursing school from Ridgewater College in Willmar and earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Crow College, according to her obituary. She was first licensed as a practical nurse in 1980 at the age of 19 and received a license to work as a registered nurse in 1994. At the time of her death, she worked as a registered nurse at the Ridgeview Emergency Department, along with North Memorial Air Care.
Schott is survived by her husband, Gary along with two children, two grandchildren, two step-children, seven step-grandchildren and a beloved family dog, Meka.
Gov. Tim Walz ordered flags to be flown at half-staff for both McDonald and Schott, who were interred at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
About 200 people attended a prayer vigil June 30 at Whipple Beach in Baxter to remember McDonald and Schott and pray for recovery for Duda, an Ironman athlete who was training for an Ironman triathlon.
A benefit dinner and silent auction is planned for Duda 5-8 p.m. Aug. 15, at the Northland Arboretum. A benefit/donation account for the Duda family was established at Bremer Bank. Donations can be made in person at any Bremer Bank location or via mail at: Bremer Bank, Joshua C. Duda / Road to Recovered Benefit Account, 7558 Design Road, Baxter, MN 56425. Checks can be made out to Josh Duda or Benefit Fund for Josh Duda.
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.