Rockford Memorial Hospital's REACT helicopter returns to flight - – Rockford’s News Leader

Rockford Memorial Hospital's REACT helicopter returns to flight

Crash site in Lee County where REACT's helicopter went down December 10, 2012. Crash site in Lee County where REACT's helicopter went down December 10, 2012.

Two months after Rockford Memorial Hospital's deadly medical helicopter crash the REACT team take to the air again. The team was cleared to return to full air operations on Sunday. But because of weather their first flight happened Monday and REACT's medical director says everything went as planned.

"They were pretty anxious to get back to work. I was hard to them to not do anything with their personalities so as far as them being ready I don't think there was any doubt that they were ready to get back in the air," says Dr. Robert Escarza, RMH REACT medical director.

In December, REACT lost three crew members in a crash. Pilot Andy Olesen and flight nurses Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis died after they turned back from a mission because of bad weather.  The helicopter has since been grounded for medical transport and instead the focus turned to training.

"They all trained with night vision goggles that they wear individually on their helmets for night flights. The new aircraft does have terrain avoidance radar I do believe. As far as the rest of the safety procedures they are the same," says Dr. Escarza.


Even though there were no patients in the helicopter the REACT crew was up in it pretty regularly. In the last month or so they trained with the Eurocopter EC135 which will replace the one RMH lost in the crash.


"It's state of the art as far as medical transport. There will be several programs that do use that. It has a twin engine which does help for maintenance and safety from what the mechanics tell me. And what the most important is the pilots and the crew are all very familiar with it because we have had to use this type of aircraft in temporary situations in the past," says Dr. Escarza.


Monday morning the crew got the call for it's first pick up. They safely delivered a pediatric patient from Freeport to RMH.


"It was like getting back on a bicycle for them as far as taking care of patients but we prepared them pretty well for getting back in the air," says Dr. Escarza.


REACT still does not have its permanent replacement helicopter. It is the same kind the are currently using. The new one needs to be outfitted for the hospital's needs plus needs to be painted before it comes to the hospital.

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