By PAULA WILMOT
Tribune Staff Writer
Great Falls police and fire departments, high schools and Benefis Healthcare reeled with Wednesday’s news of the deaths of a Mercy Flight air ambulance crew in a crash near Bozeman Tuesday night. Three people died, but fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, a daughter, a sister and a fiancée were lost in the tragedy.
Killed were the pilot, Vince Kirol, 58; a registered nurse, Darcy Dengel, 27, and a paramedic, Paul Erickson, 33, who also was a firefighter for the city of Great Falls. Kirol’s wife, Diana, is a teacher at C.M. Russell High School. His son, Kip, is a high school senior. Dengel was engaged to marry Rob Beall, a senior police patrolman. Her sister, Dawn Dengel, teaches at Great Falls High. Erickson’s wife, Rachelle, is trauma coordinator at Benefis. Their son, Spencer, was born last June.
“Collateral damage has struck the brotherhood in the medical community, schools, police and fire department,” said Ken Johns, pastor of Solid Rock Bible Church. “Our community has come together over this tragedy. Nobody should be alone at a time like this. Everyone at the ‘Rock’ is praying for them all.”
Johns and his wife, Janell, were called out at 11:30 Tuesday night to deliver the tragic news to Kirol’s family. “I’ve known Vince for 10 years. He’s a friend. Telling Diana what had happened was one of the worst things a pastor has to do.” Kirol grew up at Jackson Hole, Wyo., and he loved the mountains, Johns said. Skiing and hiking were activities he enjoyed with his son. “He loved his family. He loved God,” Johns said. And, he loved flying.
“He cared about people. That’s why he loved his job,” said Billy Darnell, who became friends with Kirol while he was youth pastor at the church. “He looked at the positive side of people. He was like a brother to me.”
According to her friend, Kathy Van Tighem, Darcy Dengel loved her work in the Benefis emergency room and on board Mercy Flight. “She loved life and it showed,” Van Tighem said. While she was still in nursing school, Dengel began to volunteer at the summertime bereavement camp for children who had lost loved ones, Van Tighem said. “She was the heart and soul of the camp,” she said. Dengel could hold a child’s hand in grief, and, later in the day, show that child how to celebrate life, “— maybe with something silly, like a water fight,” she said.
Van Tighem, a GFHS counselor, said Dengel knew how to teach the children at camp how to live with the memory of what their loved ones gave them. And, she took vacation time and volunteered her services to do it eight years in a row.
Darcy Dengel and her older sister, Dawn, were close. They lived together, although Darcy and her fiancé planned to be married later this year.
“She was a light,” said Wilma Blaquiere, a longtime family friend. “The families were so close, they think we’re cousins.” Dengel graduated from Manhattan High School, not far from where the plane went down Tuesday night. Her father had been school superintendent there, too. “She was always upbeat,” Blaquiere said. “She didn’t worry about danger in her work as a flight nurse. She wanted to help people. She knew you could hurt yourself falling in your own living room.” Her parents, Richard and Donna Dengel, live in Lewistown. Her mom, a retired teacher, is an EMT, Blaquiere said.
Erickson and his wife Rachelle were coming up on their second wedding anniversary. They were busy with their jobs, a new house and a 7-month-old son, said Steve Hester, assistant fire chief, although Erickson talked about plans to take his family camping in the summer. He joined the department in September 2000. In addition to his work as a firefighter, Erickson was one of 22 paramedics in the department, Hester said. He worked for Mercy Flight on his days off.
“Paul considered it a service to the community. He was all about service to others,” Hester said. “He knew that in rural Montana, the only way you can get help sometimes is by air.” Hester, whose wife Cheryl flies with Mercy Flight too, said “There’s a level of risk in all occupations.”
Firefighters are waiting to see what they can do to help the victims’ families, Hester said. “Instead, we’ve been getting calls from people wanting to help us. Helena offered to help backfill stations if we need it. The Gore Hill Volunteer Fire Department brought us sandwiches today,” he said.
Reach Tribune Staff Writer Paula Wilmot at 791-6594, 800-438-6600 or [email protected]