ELKO — About 100 people gathered at the Elko Regional Airport Wednesday morning for the unveiling of a bronze sculpture inscribed with the names of pilots and medical crew members who died in air flight crashes in 2004 and 2016.
A pair of hands — one reaching from a white medical star of life as it is touched by another hand that merges into a wing — paid tribute to the crews of the flights that originated from the airport.
“This stunning memorial serves as a reminder of the sacrifices and the risks that medical aircrews take every time they respond to a transport,” said Mayor Reece Keener. “I pray that the six victims on the list will stand the test of time and not need to be increased.”
Keener noted those in attendance were representatives from Elko police, fire, ambulance, REACH Air and MedX Air, along with city councilmen Chip Stone and Robert Schmidtlein and councilman-elect Clair Morris.
On Aug. 21, 2004, an Access Air helicopter crashed on Mount Tobin southwest of Battle Mountain, killing pilot Roger Morrison of Spring Creek, flight nurse Lisa Landers of Spring Creek, and flight paramedic Todd Hellman. Also killed were Alicia Preston-Crum and her 11-day old daughter Deanna, whom they had picked up in Battle Mountain and were transporting to Reno.
More than 12 years later, a Cheyenne Twin Engine Piper II transporting a patient for American Medflight crashed in the Barrick parking lot in Elko on the evening of Nov. 18, 2016, killing all four on board the plane.
Pilot Yuji Irie, paramedic Jake Shepherd of Utah, and flight nurse Tiffany Urresti of Elko died as they were transporting Bald Mountain miner Edward Clohesey of Spring Creek to Salt Lake City for open-heart surgery.
Jim Foster, manager of the Elko Regional Airport, said there was a rush to get the memorial installed on time for the fourth anniversary of the Medflight crash. However, discussions for a monument to the Access Air crash began in 2004.
“Unfortunately, time passed, and it got pushed to the side,” Foster said. “With the crash in 2016, it started the need to get something done.”
After some discussion with City Manager Curtis Calder and REACH Air personnel, a call was sent out for a memorial design. Flight Nurse Warren Archer’s drawing for the sculpture was selected by the City of Elko and the Airport Authority.
“Warren is the one who had this dream and completed it,” Foster said. “I think what we got out of it is much better and much nicer than what we originally planned for out here. It looks really nice at night with lights.”
Archer spoke at the half-hour dedication ceremony, tearing up as he recalled rushing to the scene of the Medflight crash to rescue the victims, only to find the plane already engulfed in flames.
A graphic designer and sculptor before becoming a flight nurse at the age of 50, Archer knew Hellman and Shepherd but was closest to Urresti among the Medflight crew. He drew a picture of Urresti in her flight suit with angel wings before submitting his idea for the memorial, donating 700 hours of his time to the project.
Archer described the sculpture’s significance to the crowd, starting with the star of life representing the medical profession.
“The hand rising from this base, the star of life, represents those in need of medical attention,” he explained. “The hand coming down merges into a wing, which represents the angelic help we flight medical personnel provide to those who need our help. The wing represents that angelic service, and it also represents the mode of transportation which we employ in saving the lives and helping those in our community.”
“Tiffany, Jake, Yuji, Lisa, Todd and Roger. You are gone but not forgotten,” he said.
“It gives me a sense of satisfaction to have something honoring these crews. That their sacrifice doesn’t go unremembered,” Archer said after the ceremony. “It’s a tangible visual to say ‘Tiffany, Jake and Yuji, we appreciate you. Thanks for your service.'”
When people see the memorial, Archer said he hopes it inspires everyone to remember and thank the first responders who protect, serve and rescue those in need.
“It’s appropriate to give credit to our first responders across the board. Fire, police, EMS, they keep us safe and protected and help us on some of the worst days of our lives,” he said.
Also on hand was Temple Fletcher, a retired paramedic who attended the ceremony and spoke on behalf of her and air medical photographer Mark Mennie’s Air Medical Memorial Light Project.
“We have collected many little tea lights for every air medical personnel that we have lost over the years. There are over 400 lights,” Fletcher said. “Today, we are adding those six to make sure they travel with those lights and travel all over the world in remembrance that we never forget the air medical brothers and sisters we have lost. “
Fletcher also participates in the annual EMS Memorial Bike Ride that travels from Reno to San Francisco, placing tea lights along the route.
Toward the ceremony’s conclusion, a REACH Air helicopter flew three times over the crowd gathered outside the Elko Regional Airport in memory of all the victims.
The National Air Medical Memorial in Colorado permitted the airport to fly its flag during the ceremony.
Some family members were in attendance, including Shepherd’s father and Urresti’s family.
Foster said he contacted Hellman’s wife in Reno, who was unable to make the ceremony, adding it was “hard to track down people” 16 years after the Access Air crash.
Urresti’s father, Jim, said watching the ceremony made the fourth anniversary of the crash a “little bit” easier and praised Archer’s design.
“We love the memorial. They did a good job on it,” Jim said. “Warren’s a good friend. We’re all really impressed with it.”
Foster echoed Archer’s thoughts, asking the community to visit the memorial to honor the medical personnel who died in service.
“The monument’s here for our community,” Foster said. “Come down anytime and pay your respects if you knew any of the people involved.”
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