Preliminary report details moments before North Memorial helicopter crash in Brainerd

A North Memorial Air Care helicopter that crashed early Friday, June 28, near the intersection of two runways at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport is covered with tarps. The crash happened about 1 a.m., killing a pilot and flight nurse and critically injuring a paramedic. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service

BRAINERD, Minn. — 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.


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.

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