MADISON, Wis. – A medical helicopter dropped off a patient and then crashed shortly after it took off on its return flight to Madison, killing the surgeon, nurse and pilot on board, officials said Sunday.
The University of Wisconsin Hospital Med Flight crew went down about three miles from the La Crosse airport, where they departed late Saturday, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said in a statement.
The wreckage was found early Sunday and preliminary reports indicate the helicopter may have struck a hill or some trees, said Margaret Van Bree, the hospital's chief operating officer.
Killed in the crash were surgeon Darren Bean, nurse Mark Coyne and pilot Steve Lipperer, she said. All three lived in Madison. Their ages were not immediately available.
There were no concerns about the weather before the crew took off about 10:30 p.m.
"No further communication was received from the crew," Van Bree said.
The pilot was flying visually, not using instruments, at the time of the crash, said Med Flight director Mark Hanson. He did not know why.
The aircraft was a new American Eurocopter EC13 leased from Denver-based Air Methods beginning in August, Hanson said.
There were no reported mechanical problems with this particular aircraft or its model, said Mike Allen, senior vice president of hospital-based medical services for Air Methods.
The university system has grounded its other Med Flight helicopter, also leased from Air Methods, pending the investigation into the crash, Hanson said. If air service is needed while the helicopters are grounded other helicopters being used by other hospitals may be used, he said.
The university hospital system has had an air flight program since 1985. This was the first crash. On average there are about three or four flights a day, Hanson said. The average distance flown to pick up a patient is about 55 miles, he said.
Bean became a Med Flight physician for the hospital system in 2002. He also was the director of the city of Madison's EMT program and an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Coyne was a 22-year veteran of the Med Flight system and had worked for the hospital since 1981. He also was an emergency medical technician-paramedic.
Lipperer worked for Air Methods and was a contract employee for the hospital system since 2000.
"In our moments of greatest peril, our lives depend on the courageous work of Med Flight personnel," Gov. Jim Doyle said in a statement. "Dr. Darren Bean, Mark Coyne and Steve Lipperer dedicated themselves to rescuing people who faced the longest odds, and we owe them tremendous gratitude for their extraordinary service and dedication."