The names of the three people flying on a medical helicopter that crashed near Rochelle Monday night have been released.
Around 8:30 p.m. Monday night, the chopper crashed into a field just south of Rochelle near US-30 and IL-251.
The REACT chopper flies for Rockford Health System. RHS says the pilot, Andy Olesen, and two flight nurses, Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis, died in the crash. Olesen, 65, was set to retire on December 19. There were no patients on-board. RHS issued a statement overnight saying, "Our hearts are heavy. We grieve the loss of three heroes who dedicated their careers to serving others."
The cause of the crash is still unknown, but RHS Spokesperson Wester Wuori believes it might be weather-related. Casey Sullivan, Meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Romeoville, Illinois says flurries and light snow were reported with the 8:00pm automatic weather observation at Rochelle Municipal Airport. The temperature was 30 degrees with a wind out of the west at 7 mph. He could not confirm whether icing was a factor in the crash. "We did not receive any reports of any icing in that area from aircraft, but that's not to say it wasn't possible" he says. WREX Chief Meteorologist Eric Sorensen explains that the air was saturated and the temperatures were right around freezing at flight level. "Aircraft icing disrupts the aerodynamics around aircraft fuselage and can add a significant amount of weight which can cause the aircraft to become unstable."
Federal Aviation Association and National Transportation Safety Board investigators are on the scene leading the investigation, but they have not released an official statement yet.
During a 10:30 a.m. press conference Tuesday, Rockford Health Systems gave some insight into the events leading up to the crash. RMH executives say they received a call from Mendota Hospital about 7:30 p.m. The hospital had a critically ill adult patient that needed to be transferred to Rockford Memorial Hospital. Shortly afterward, REACT helicopter took off, bound for Mendota. En route to Mendota, the pilot called back to report the aircraft had "encountered weather" and was turning back, but gave no specifics. A short time after that, contact was lost with the aircraft.
Hospital officials say they are cooperating with both the FAA and the NTSB, but their focus is on the needs of the victims' families and the employees of Rockford Health Systems.
13 News will continue to bring you team coverage of this tragic incident in our newscasts and online at WREX.com.
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