Flight For Life Mahany Heroes Park in Frisco to honor local pilot
It’s a little more than a year after a horrific Flight For Life Helicopter crash, and the Summit County community is still slowly picking up the pieces.
But Julie Kelble, an emergency room nurse at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center and chairperson of the Flight For Life Mahany Heroes Park committee, hopes a new park will help everyone begin to heal.
“It’s really a place of respect and honor,” Kelble said. “For (the committee) it’s been an avenue for us to heal on the inside, and now we want that to be here for everybody else.”
The crash killed 64-year-old Patrick Mahany, a decorated Vietnam veteran, who had been flying with Flight For Life for 27 years.
Kelble, who was with Patrick Mahany’s widow Karen Mahany on the day of the crash, said that he was an integral part of the community in Summit County, one that cannot easily be replaced.
“(Flying) was his life. Absolutely,” Kelble said.
Kelble has been a nurse for the last 27 years. From 1996-2004 she worked with Flight For Life. Some of her first flights were with Patrick Mahany.
The park features three areas: one for reflection, one for celebration and one for honor. The theme of threes also ties into the three crew members involved in the crash: Mahany, flight paramedic Dave Repsher and flight nurse Matthew Bowe. Repsher received burns over 90 percent of his body in the crash. He was released from inpatient treatment at the University of Colorado Hospital on Aug. 2. He and his wife live in Denver so that he can receive physical therapy. Bowe suffered internal injuries, but has since returned to work for Flight For Life. Both have fundraising pages set up on http://www.youcaring.com to help cover their medical expenses.
“(Dave’s) amazing. His helmet protected most of his face,” Kelble said. “I talk with my hands, Dave talks with his eyebrows. So even now when you talk to him, his eyebrows move around, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Dave.’”
The park is a handful of steps away from the crash site at St. Anthony’s. Eddie O’Brien, who worked on the pocket parks in Dillon, worked with Kelble on the committee to get the park done. O’Brien is also a member of the Colorado Grand board, which frequently works with Flight For Life. O’Brien helped with fundraising for the Flight For Life hangar. Kelble said that a couple of days after the crash, O’Brien called saying that the organization wanted to be there for the families of the crew in any way they could.
“I said, ‘We want to make sure there’s money right now for everything,’ so that’s how it all started,” O’Brien said.
The opening ceremony for the park will happen at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8. Some of the art in the park was installed on Oct. 5. The committee broke ground for the park in July. While Megan Testin from Norris Designs and Kimberly Kramer both put bids in to do the landscaping for the park, O’Brien said they ended up working together to put it all together.
Both O’Brien and Kelble said that a year was quick turn-around to get the park going, but Kelble said that they wanted to be sure that Patrick’s son, Ryan Mahany, would be able to attend the opening. Ryan Mahany recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.
“This happened really quick, and I’m going to tell you one of the reasons is the community, individuals and organizations in the community were looking for someplace to show their respect for Flight For Life, and Patrick, and Dave, and Matt, and frankly everybody here that’s part of the rescue world,” O’Brien said. “This turned out to be the perfect venue for that.”
Kelble added that most people involved in working with the park had a direct connection with rescue organizations in the state.
“It’s just all in the family,” Kelble said.
The park has several elements tying back to the hospital staff that worked on the day of the crash. There are 15 aspen trees planted that represent the hospital employees that responded, including a technician that attempted to pull Mahany from the fire. The landscaping architects also planted colorful flowers that Kelble said are meant to represent Mahany’s colorful personality.
One of the most touching pieces in the park was added because of an experience Kelble said Karen Mahany had after her husband’s death. Kelble said that Karen constantly saw dragonflies around her, particularly in moments of stress. The dragonflies have come to represent Patrick Mahany in Karen’s eyes. To honor this, there are three dragonflies in the flagstones leading to the plaque honoring him. Ryan Mahany requested the plaque to honor his father.
In the months after her husband’s death, Karen Mahany began lobbying for pilots’ safety in Congress. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) introduced the Helicopter Fuel System Safety Act that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to install crash-resistant fuel systems in new helicopters by the end of the year. It was not included in the reauthorization of the FAA, which was approved in July.
“Although I am pleased we were able to agree on a long-term FAA extension, I’m disappointed that the extension did not include common-sense language to protect the quiet skies of residents near our smaller airports, nor did it fix helicopter fuel systems,” Polis said in a statement on his website. “My hope is that we can all agree that Flight For Life helicopters should be equipped with the highest safety standards available.”
According to a Safety Recommendation Report from the National Transportation Safety Board, dated March 23, the organization said that the three crew members were alive upon impact. The fire that resulted from fuel leaking from the helicopter is what killed Mahany and sent Repsher to the hospital fighting for his life.
The report continues by saying that if the helicopter had a crash-resistant fuel system installed, it may have “prevented or reduced the risk of thermal injuries.” At the time of the report, NTSB had not concluded their investigation of the crash.
However, in July 2015, a few weeks after the crash, Bowe and Repsher filed separate lawsuits against the manufacturers of the helicopter. The suits, filed by the Lietz Law Firm in Dillon, said that based off witness descriptions, it appears the rotor malfunctioned, which caused the helicopter to spin out of control shortly after takeoff.
The suit lists the defendants as Air Methods Inc. of Colorado, Airbus Helicopters, Inc., of Texas, and Airbus Helicopters, S.A.S., of France. The suits have nine charges, including: defective design and manufacture by Airbus Helicopters and failure to warn of known hazards and failure by Air Methods to maintain, service, overhaul, inspect and operate the helicopter. Both lawsuits seek unspecified damages.
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