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Tragedy in the Skies

Two Rockford nurses die in medical helicopter crash

On Dec. 10, a medical helicopter crashed in inclement weather and killed Jim Dillow, RN, and Karen Hollis, RN, both flight nurses with Rockford Memorial Hospital.

The helicopter had been dispatched at 7:30 p.m. to pick up a patient at Mendota Community Hospital. After encountering sleet, the pilot radioed that he was returning to Rockford Memorial.  The aircraft went down in a farm area 30 miles from its destination.

The pilot, employed by Air Methods of Denver, only had four more shifts scheduled before his retirement.

The helicopter and staff were part of the Regional Emergency Acute Care Transport (REACT) program.

"A Lot of Broken Hearts Here"

According to Robert Escarza, MD, medical director of the REACT program, both Dillow and Hollis were an integral part of the flight team and put their role as clinicians above any potential dangers in flying.

"There's a mythical quality to this business," he remarked. "These nurses both functioned at the level of 3rd or 4th year residents as far as medical acumen.  They cared about patients more than about any ancillary stuff in the flight program. We lost an invaluable amount of experience."

Hollis' experience included 10 years as a flight nurse, as well as positions in the ICU, emergency department and trauma in her 26 years with the health system. Escarza couldn't even enumerate her contributions to the program.

"Karen was pretty special. She had boundless energy," he recalled. "She was constantly trying to improve and always worried about making a mistake on the job. She never did. She arranged consultants for the crew's education and broke up the monotony of our meetings."

Outside of Rockford Memorial, Escarza speculated that Hollis' loss might be felt even more deeply at a special needs school where she was heavily involved in fundraising and curriculum development.

"Within our program and outside of it, Karen's death will leave a big hole in the world," Escarza said.

Dillow also has 10 years experience as a flight nurse as well and held previous critical care and ED positions. Escarza admired his dedication to his four children as well as his commitment to the job and effervescent personality.

"He was a class clown type," Escarza recalled. "We could actually use him now. He'd be mortified to know what we're going through on his behalf. He would've started us on the path to healing."

Memorial Tribute

Rockford Memorial is planning a memorial service for the crew on Dec. 19 in the physical education center at Rock Valley Community College, 3301 N. Mulford Rd., Rockford. The service is planned from 10 a.m. - 11 a.m., ending with a flyover by a number of aircraft. Because of the large crowd anticipated, the general public should arrive by 9.

The REACT Crew Memorial Fund was also established to support the families. Contributions may be made via phone at (815) 971-4141 or online at

Robin Hocevar is senior regional editor at ADVANCE.

Articles Archives

Dear Sir,
December 19 th 2012
1)It is very sad to hear the crashing of a medical helicopter causing the demise of the service oriented human beings .Many times we cannot digest the fact that why God is so cruel to people who dedicate their life to service of mankind !It is a great loss to patients who need their care most in future .
2) May be manufacturers of helicopters have to research for more safety devices which save the valuable human life on board in such situations and train the people as to how to use them in emergencies .
Krishna Kumar C.S

krishna  kumarDecember 19, 2012

My prayers go out to the families of these special people. I was inspired to become a critical care ER nurse from my aunt Elma Okane who worked years at Rockford Memorial Hospital. If it were not for your hospital and her special role, I would not have become a nurse. What a loss your facility must feel with this sad event.

Terri Forehand,  RN,  IU Bloomington December 19, 2012
Bloomington, IN


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