Local News

Patient's family mourns loss of relative, Duke Life Flight crew after crash

Posted September 12

— Five days after an Elizabeth City woman died when the medical helicopter taking her to Duke University Hospital for treatment crashed in northeast North Carolina, her family on Tuesday thanked the crew who also perished in the crash for caring for her.

"They were some lovely people who dedicate their lives to helping people, transporting people, and they all died. We're all in the same situation," said Mary Bartlett's husband, Lennard Bartlett.

The Duke Life Flight helicopter carrying Mary Bartlett was en route to Durham from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City when it went down Friday afternoon in a grassy field outside the town of Belvidere, south of the Perquimans-Gates county line.

Pilot Jeff Burke and flight nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger also died in the crash.

"It was shocking. We just did not understand," said Tiffany Bartlett Thompson, who was on the road headed to Durham when she learned her mother's flight ended in tragedy.

The Life Flight crew was taking 70-year-old Mary Bartlett to Duke Hospital to deal with internal bleeding after recent pancreatic cancer surgery, her family said, noting she was a retired nurse herself with a big personality.

"Everybody loved her, and she was full of life. She loved to laugh and dance and cut up," Thompson said.

That personality played out before the final flight as the Bartletts bonded with the Life Flight crew.

"He was praying for my wife and everything and said it was a beautiful day, a perfect day for flying," Lennard Bartlett said of Burke. "I'm praying for his family and the two nurses' families."

Lennard Bartlett said he had planned to go on the flight with his wife of 47 years but was told there wasn't enough room on the helicopter. While he and Thompson drove to Durham, two other children were already waiting for their mother at Duke Hospital.

"The husband and father I became was because of her. She was the rock," Lennard Bartlett said.

The family said they will always remember the care the Life Flight crew provided Mary Bartlett in her final hours.

"It was like three angels came to take her away, and they just went back to heaven together," Thompson said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. A preliminary report is due in the next few days, but it could be months before the exact cause is determined.

Duke Hospital has grounded its second Life Flight helicopter until further notice.

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  • Remah Howell Sep 13, 11:59 a.m.
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    Prayers for the families. Some things in life are so difficult to understand. I am so sorry for the loss. May God bless them in comfort.