Weather cited as big factor in Alexandria medical copter crash

ALEXANDRIA -- Weather played a major role in a medical helicopter crash injuring three crew members last month in Alexandria, according to an initial report on the investigation.

A North Memorial Air Care helicopter crashed into the trees along Lake Winona in Alexandria on Sept. 17. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

ALEXANDRIA - Weather played a major role in a medical helicopter crash injuring three crew members last month in Alexandria, according to an initial report on the investigation.

Further, one expert said the weather conditions were poor, and air ambulance crashes often result in fatalities.

RELATED: Medical helicopter crash injures three crew members

In its initial report, the National Transportation Safety Board said clouds were forming below the North Memorial Health Care helicopter before it crashed about 2 a.m. Sept. 17.

The crew left Brainerd at 1:35 a.m. to fly to the Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria to transfer a patient, the report states.


The pilot, identified previously as Joshua Jones, was about 20 minutes from Alexandria when he noticed clouds quickly forming beneath the helicopter. He intended to divert to the Alexandria Municipal Airport to land there using his instruments instead of landing at the hospital.

The report said Jones missed the approach and then tried to use the "go around" function of the helicopter's autopilot. Then, while approaching the airport, "the helicopter made an uncommanded left bank followed by a right bank. The pilot attempted to counteract the bank by applying opposite cyclic control."

The helicopter crashed into a wooded area behind a residential neighborhood on the eastern shore of Lake Winona, just north of the airport.

The wreckage of the Agusta S.p.A A109S helicopter was pulled from the wooded area and moved to the Twin Cities as the crash investigation continues.

Weather records from the Alexandria airport cited in the report say visibility was at 9 miles at 2:01 a.m., six minutes before the crash, with broken clouds at 400 feet, a temperature and dew point both at 57 degrees. By 2:09 a.m., visibility had dropped to 4 miles.

Mike Slack, a former NASA senior aerospace engineer and a licensed pilot who specializes in aviation law at the Slack and Davis law firm in Texas, said trying to land a helicopter at night in such weather conditions would be a challenge for any helicopter pilot.

Slack said that with the dew point and temperature at the same point, that makes the conditions ripe for fog.

When the pilot saw clouds below him before reaching Alexandria, "it was not a good situation at that point," Slack said in an interview.


Air ambulance crashes often result in fatalities, he said.

"Fortunately, it was a survivable impact," Slack said.

The three crew members injured in the crash were identified as Jones, 47, flight nurse Scott Scepaniak, 44, and flight paramedic Miles Weske, 34.

All three were taken to North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale with injuries. No patients on board.

The most seriously injured was Weske, who has had multiples surgeries on his spine, as well as one to repair his broken femur. Weske, listed in critical condition earlier this week also needs surgery to repair his broken ankle.

Jones and Scepaniak have been discharged.

The NTSB will complete a more detailed report, but it is not known when it will be issued.

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