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VENTURA | The biggest news story in North Iowa during 2013 took place just two days into the new year when the Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa Air Med helicopter crashed Jan. 2 north of Ventura, killing all three crew members on board.

Flight nurse Shelly Lair-Langenbau, 44, of Hanlontown; paramedic Russell Piehl, 48, of Forest City; and pilot Gene Grell, 53, of Texas, were on their way to Palo Alto County Hospital in Emmetsburg to pick up a patient when the helicopter crashed.

The three were remembered in a memorial service on Jan. 10 at the North Iowa Community Auditorium that was attended by about 1,600 people. A seven-member Scottish EMS honor guard played "Amazing Grace." A four-member EMS honor guard from Missouri drove several hours to participate in the ceremony. 

"When a tragic event like this happens to one of our own, it affects all of us," said Joseph Farrell, of the Iowa Bureau of EMS, one of those who spoke during the service.

Icing may have caused the crash of the Bell 407 helicopter, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Relatives of Lair-Langenbau have filed a lawsuit in Cerro Gordo County District Court against Med-Trans Corp., the Dallas-based company that contracts with Mercy to provide medical helicopter transportation service.  

The suit claims Grell took off in icing conditions that made the helicopter unsafe to fly, and Med-Trans had a "go-at-any-cost" philosophy that placed corporate profit over safety. 

A cross bearing the names of Lair-Langenbau, Piehl and Grell has been placed near the crash site as a memorial.

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