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Pilot and Two Nurses Killed in REACT Helicopter Crash in Lee County - Illinois


Tuesday, December 11, 2012 ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Three people were killed, when their medical helicopter crashed last night, ten miles south of Rochelle. The NTSB is on the scene today, trying to figure out what went wrong.

That helicopter missed Michael Bernardis’ house, but crashed in a field nearby.

"By the looks of the thing it was pretty nasty. When it hit, I knew nobody could survive that," said Bernardis.

Nobody survived. Pilot Andy Olesen, and Flight Nurses Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis were all killed. They were on their way from Rockford Memorial Hospital to a car crash in Mendota when they radioed saying they were turning the medical helicopter around due to bad weather. That was the last they were heard from before crashing near Rochelle.

“Now we're just trying to see what we can find for the debris. Our debris field is about a football, football half size in diameter. To start searching to see where we're at with everything, and then we'll go from there,” said Lee County Sheriff, John Varga.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been on scene all day, but the cold weather is delaying their investigation.

"The conditions out there are pretty harsh. Pretty cold. We have several things going on at the same time. Right now we're basically in the process of recovering the victims," said Arnold Scott with the NTSB.

The NTSB expects to begin removing the helicopter tomorrow and says the full investigation will take several more days. A complete report on the accident will be released in six months.

The accident has been very hard on Rockford Memorial employees. The pilot was just weeks away from retiring and both nurses were well-known and loved.

At a news conference today, CEO Gary Kaatz led staff members in a moment of silence.

Kaatz tells 23 News that the hospital is providing counseling services to help employees get through this hard time. He says he wants to celebrate the lives of the three crew members, and their dedication to saving others.

Dozens of Rockford Memorial employees mourn the loss of 65 year-old Andy Olesen, 48 year-old Karen Hollis, and 40 year-old Jim Dillow.

Olesen had been flying react helicopters from Rockford for five years. Hospital spokespeople tell me he had plans to retire after being a pilot for almost 20 years. Hollis had been a nurse at Rockford Memorial for 26 years, where she was trauma nurse coordinator. Dillow worked in the critical care unit before joining react as a flight nurse.

"We are a very tight knit family of 3,000 individuals in our family here at Rockford Health Systems,” said Gary Kaatz, CEO of Rockford Health Systems.

"It' still a fresh wound it's a horrible tragedy. No real words are going to be able to mitigate how big a tragedy it is. You know we're really going to do our best to heal those who are still here,” said Robert Escarza, Director of the Transport Program Director.

Hospital spokespeople tell me Hollis and Olesen grew up in Rockford. Both Dillow and Hollis were flight nurses for more than 10 years.

There have been many questions asking how people can help. Rockford Memorial tells us they're trying to figure that out now, and plan to have more info tomorrow.

UPDATE: Rockford Health Systems CEO Gary Kaatz held a moment of silence for the three victims of last night's deadly helicopter crash.

He says he and the staff are heartbroken over the loss of Andy Olesen, Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis.

At a press conference this morning, he told reporters that information is still limited at this time.

We're told the crew was headed to Mendota to pick up a patient in critical condition. They never made it.

Kaatz wouldn't speculate as to what may have caused the accident. The NTSB is expected at the scene at any minute.

We'll continue to bring you more information as we get it.

UPDATE: Rockford Health Systems has released a statement stating the crew members that did not survive the crash were Pilot Andy Olesen, Nurse Jim Dillow, and Nurse Karen Hollis. 23 News Reporter Landon Cassman is at the scene gathering the latest details.

UPDATE: The FAA has confirmed three people were killed when a REACT helicopter crashed near Rochelle. The medical helicopter was traveling from Rockford Memorial Hospital to Mendota when it crashed in a field in Lee County, near Compton. The National Transportation Safety Board is now handling the investigation.

UPDATE: According to Chicago media outlets three people were killed in the crash.

LEE COUNTY (WIFR) -- Breaking news out of Lee County. We've learned a React helicopter has crashed near route 251 and U.S. 30, south of Rochelle. The Lee County Sheriff's Department will not release any information over the phone. One of our reporters is on the way. We'll bring you the latest information online and tomorrow on 23 News This Morning. 

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