Lawsuit filed in winter chopper crash

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, July 24, 2013

By John Skipper
Mason City Globe Gazette

MASON CITY — Relatives of Shelly Lair-Langenbau, a flight nurse killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 2, have filed a lawsuit in Cerro Gordo County District Court, claiming negligence on the part of the air transport company that owned the helicopter and its pilot.

The suit claims the pilot, Gene Grell, who was also killed in the crash took off in icing conditions that made the helicopter unsafe to fly.

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Plaintiffs are the nurse’s husband, Worth County Sheriff Jay Langenbau; two minor children; and Gerald and Karen Lair, her parents.

The defendant is Med-Trans Corp., Lewisville, Texas, which operates the helicopter service.

The suit claims Lair-Langenbau, 44, of Hanlontown, Iowa, was the flight nurse on a Bell 407 helicopter, owned by Med-Trans and piloted by Grell, that took off in icing conditions from Mercy Medical Center – North Iowa with an intended destination of Palo Alto County Hospital in Emmetsburg.

The helicopter crashed in a field shortly after takeoff, killing Lair-Langenbau, Grell, 53, of Texas and paramedic Russell Piehl, 48, of Forest City.

The suit claims Med-Trans knew that Bell 407 helicopters were not safe to operate in certain weather conditions, including icing.

It further claims Med-Trans had a “go at any cost” philosophy that placed corporate profit over safety.

Also, the suit says Med-Trans is liable for the actions of Grell who, the suit claims did not properly assess the weather before taking off; failed to abort the flight when he knew of the icing conditions; improperly flew the helicopter and failed to maintain control over it; and failed to obtain proper weather data prior to the flight.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages for the alleged wrongful death of Lair-Langenbau; punitive damages sufficient to punish and deter Med-Trans from further wrong-doing; court costs of the plaintiffs; and any further relief the court deems appropriate.

Langenbau and the other plaintiffs are represented by Mason City attorney John P. Lander and attorneys Gary C. Robb and Anita Porte Robb of Kansas City, Mo.

They are requesting a jury trial.

Efforts to reach Med-Trans for comment were unsuccessful.