Memorial park planned in honor of Flight For Life pilot Patrick Mahany
May 13, 2016
At 1:39 p.m. on July 3, 2015, a Flight For Life helicopter fell from the sky. Just moments after takeoff, the crash resulted in a large fire, the death of a decorated local pilot and serious injuries to two flight nurses.
Nearly a year later, the scene is still fresh in the minds of many Summit County locals, particularly friends and family of Flight For Life pilot Patrick Mahany, and flight nurses David Repsher and Matt Bowe. The staff of St. Anthony's Summit Medical Center in Frisco, where the accident took place, was also affected by the events of that summer.
"I think the hospital's healing. I think time has helped some," said Julie Kelble, a RN with the hospital's emergency department.
Kelble, along with a group of community members, family and friends of those involved in the crash, is working to create a memorial park near the scene of the crash. She is spearheading a committee with the assistance of Eddie O'Brien, a local broker who helped create several "pocket parks" in Dillon in the mid-'90s, as well as local landscape architects Kim Kramer, Elena Scott and Megan Testin. The group started talking about the possibilities in August, when the idea of a park came forward.
"This is a place of peace and there will be people who need a place to go to heal," O'Brien said. "It's so much more than a simple memorial."
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"Just about everything that's being put into the park represents something of meaning," Kelble said. "We felt that this space should be to celebrate air medical and what they do, to honor what happened that day and a more quiet space to reflect on the loss of Patrick Mahany."
With this in mind, the park was divided into three areas: reflect, celebrate and honor.
"There were three crewmembers," Kelble added. "It's all connected."
Part of the concept will honor Ryan Mahany's wish to have a plaque in honor of his father, Patrick Mahany, near the crash site. Located off the bike path behind Summit Medical Center, the park will overlook the employee parking lot where the accident took place. A bronze plaque is planned for the "reflect," area of the park, a smaller, more private space in remembrance of the veteran pilot.
Since Ryan Mahany was deployed as an Army Black Hawk pilot in Afghanistan last fall, Kelble said they hoped to complete as much of the project as possible by his planned return in September.
"The process has been very emotional and I'm honored to be a part of it," Kramer said. "We talked to everyone on the committee, heard the stories, and got to know Patrick better."
Other ideas include creating benches from helicopter blades, to create a rest space overlooking the town of Frisco below. O'Brien added they also hope to have three towers near the park entrance, to signify the three crew members in the helicopter.
Part of the plan is to make the park ADA accessible to ensure patients will have the opportunity to enjoy it as well. The idea was also created with Repsher in mind, who has been hospitalized at University Hospital in Denver since the crash, and took months to regain consciousness.
"Dave has been a part of this as much as he can while he's awake," Kelble said. "He's making much larger strides than before. …It's very heartening."
Kelble said they had also requested a specific number of trees be planted to signify the immediate responders to the crash, including a number of hospital personnel and two passersby on the bike path.
"It was right in our backyard," Kelble said. "What they did that day is amazing to me."
To create the park, the committee needed permissions from the county and Summit Medical Center, as the hospital leases the land from the county. While the project is still awaiting county approval, staff expressed their support of the project.
"Everyone has been, of course, wonderful," said Scott, a principal with Norris Design. "We've had a lot of feedback and support."
Flight For Life has its roots in the Colorado, with Summit County helping form the state's rapid avalanche deployment program (CRAD). Patrick Mahany played an integral role in CRAD's development, especially when it came to training for the rare event of a deployment.
"Putting dogs on the aircraft, coordinating with experts in the county, it's not easy, and Flight For Life stepped up to the plate," Kelble said. "Patrick was all about safety training, having the dogs in and around the aircraft."
Having served as a flight nurse for more than eight years, Kelble is close to the work of the Lifeguard 2 crew.
"It takes a chain of people to save somebody's life, but you get to be a big part of that," she said. "It's a gift when you're hired for them, and it's a burden you bear. And you do it as well as you can."
Mahany was a pilot with Flight For Life for 27 years, having flown for a total of 35 years. His career includes flying as a scout pilot in the Vietnam War, for which he was awarded a bronze star and purple heart, and flying in water to help extinguish wildfires.
"Patrick was highly admired by his coworkers. Not just the nurses but the pilots as well," Kelble added. "He had the experience and personality to do a remarkable job."
Shortly after the crash, a fund was established through the Summit Medical Health Foundation for a future memorial.
"Truly, people started calling within days of the accident trying to figure out where they could donate," Kelble said.
Once the needed approvals in place, O'Brien said bids will go out to contractors. Several entities have already offered in-kind donations, including designs, legal work and land assessments.
"This park will really be built by donations by the community," Kramer said. "So many people want to be involved and be a part of it."
The committee is looking at offering paver stones for purchase, as well as opportunities for potential donors on all levels. Contributions to the memorial fund may be made online at https://chif.catholichealth.net/Centura/SUM/pages/ffl-memorial. The committee will also have a booth in Frisco during the Town Clean Up Day for those seeking more information about the project.
"This park is for this community," Kelble added. "We hope every single one will come out and honor them."
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