Local News

Duke Life Flight crash kills four

Posted September 8
Updated September 12

— Four people were killed Friday when a Duke Life Flight medical helicopter crashed in northeast North Carolina, according to the State Highway Patrol.

The crash occurred in a grassy field near Amazon's wind farm outside the town of Belvidere, south of the Perquimans-Gates county line.

The helicopter, which was based at Johnston Regional Airport in Smithfield, was en route to Duke University Hospital in Durham from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City when it went down, officials said. A pilot, two medical personnel and a patient were aboard at the time, officials said.

On Saturday, Duke Hospital identified the staff members as flight nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger and pilot Jeff Burke. The name of the patient on board was not released.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our patient and the dedicated professionals from Duke Life Flight," Albemarle Medical Center President Coleen Santa Ana said in a statement. "We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the patient who was lost and to those closest to the crew members. We also extend our sincere sympathies to Duke University Medical Center on the loss of their colleagues. This tragedy reminds us of the devotion of healthcare professionals to the service of others."

The Life Flight program has been grounded until further notice, Duke University Hospital President Kevin Sowers said.

"How do you get back on the copter and fly again and how do you get back out into the field after going through a loss like this," he questioned.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board went to the crash site Friday afternoon to assist with the investigation into the cause of the crash. Sowers said Duke is cooperating with investigators.

"We have no idea at this time and we will cooperate with the NTSB on the investigation, but we have no idea what happened," Sowers said.

Sowers said counselors were available at Duke Hospital to help staff cope with the deaths and hospital leaders said they are supporting the families of those who died in any way they can.

"The men and women of Duke Life Flight put their lives at risk every day to go bring critically ill patients back to this hospital," Sowers said. "We are very saddened by our loss today."

Duke operates two Life Flight helicopters, both of which are 5 years old. They fly to all of North Carolina and to parts of South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

Life Flight also had a fatal crash in October 2000.

In that crash, the pilot instructed the crew to take a patient from Alamance Regional Hospital to Duke Hospital on the ground after seeing a warning light indicating a problem with transmission oil pressure. The helicopter crashed in a Burlington neighborhood shortly after takeoff as it was returning to Durham, killing the pilot.


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  • Juanita Howard Sep 11, 1:21 p.m.
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    I can tell you for a fact that they didn't wait and reported as soon as they heard about it, because I know the families of the people on board the helicopter and know they weren't able to be notified in person because of the rush to get to them before they saw it on the news, because WRAL and ABC11 didn't bother to ask had next of kin been notified before splashing the headline and the nice wonderful pic of the crash on every available outlet possible.

  • Jeff Freuler Sep 9, 7:39 a.m.
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    Because the crash was being reported here as soon as it happened. Next of kin notification usually takes a while especially in the private sector. It's called common sense which is not all that common these days

  • Linda Tally Sep 9, 6:40 a.m.
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    For those of you hollering that WRAL should hold off on the story until next of kin is notified, what makes you think it didn't? The names haven't been released - that's not the same as not having kin notified.

  • Jeff Freuler Sep 8, 11:29 p.m.
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    How would you feel if it was your family.

    I've performed many and I mean many death notifications. Real time news like this only causes anxiety within families who have family members who might be involved

  • Clarence Drumgoole Sep 8, 9:32 p.m.
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    Condolence to all Families involved. Any next of kin, knew who was on that aircraft. WRAL should be thanked for all they do, otherwise we would have listen to hear say.

  • Kelly Thornburg Sep 8, 4:16 p.m.
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    In the absence of legitimate information, let's reference a 17 year old crash which has nothing to do with the present tragedy.

  • Diane Weaver Usher Sep 8, 4:14 p.m.
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    As the child of a parent that was in a catastrophic commercial airliner crash in the 70's I agree with you that they should not post prior to the notification. The first story was posted at 12:58 and the crash occurred at 11:45. I am praying that the families were notified in this time frame. I am also a health care provider and this is a very devastating accident to the medical community. I pray for the families and loved ones of these 4.

  • Colin Burch III Sep 8, 3:57 p.m.
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    There should be no reporting until authorities have been able to notify next of kin. No one should find out a love one has died via the media. The media should agree to self regulate this protocol. That would be the humane thing to do.

  • Wayne Hill Sep 8, 2:29 p.m.
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    Beautiful day, little wind, we can rule weather out of the equation as to cause. Further, I agree with you Jeff, the media needs to show civility and compassion when reporting items such as this. The image they portray in their feel good commercials about how they cherish and support the community is one big lie.

  • Jeff Freuler Sep 8, 2:10 p.m.
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    One thing I dislike about realtime news. Now you have families worried if their loved ones were involved