NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The loss of four people on board a downed medical helicopter hits home for longtime flight nurse Denise Baylous.
Now the manager of Nightingale, the regional air ambulance based at Sentara Norfolk General, Baylous has been swooping in to help patients for 15 of her 27 years as a nurse. She says her team has been hyper-vigilant about safety after a Duke Life Flight, carrying three crew members and one patient, crashed in the middle of a wind farm in Perquimans County near Belvidere.
“It’s just devastating,” she said. “We train continuously on different scenarios and what we need to do to make certain that we are safe with the patients.”
Baylous leads a team of 29 people: 11 flight paramedics, six flight nurses, six air communication specialists, four pilots and two mechanics. She says the aircraft undergoes a daily maintenance check.
The crew is based in Norfolk, but the crew flies patients to Duke Medical Center a few times a month.
“They are part of our air medical community. We are all one,” said Baylous. “These are wonderful people doing wonderful work. To lose this type of aircraft, this type of program, this type of dedication, is tragic.”
Flight nurses Kris Harrison and Crystal Sollinger and pilot Jeff Burke died in the fiery crash, according to Duke Health. Mary Bartlett, 70, was being treated in the helicopter when it crashed, according to her daughter Tiffany Bartlett Thompson.
Bartlett was born and raised in Elizabeth City. Duke Life Flight picked her up from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center after she had complications from two surgeries related to her pancreatic cancer.
“She was alert and responding … everyone was in a joyous mood,” said Bartlett Thompson. “The pilot told us it was the perfect day for flying.”
Bartlett Thompson spent time with the flight crew before they took off and planned to meet her mom at the hospital in Durham. She says the crew was “smiling and joyful” and talked about the support across the country for the victims in southeast Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey.
“[Burke] shared a nice message about humanity and wishing that everyone could help each other out like that all the time,” said Bartlett Thompson.
Baylous says Nightingale is the same medivac as the downed Duke Life Flight. She describes the aircraft as “state-of-the-art,” but admits being on any flight crew is dangerous.
“We recognize that we put our lives on the line everyday to do what we do, but that’s what we love to do,” she said. “We love to serve our community. We take every step we need to take to maintain our safety and our patients’ safety in the aircraft.”
Baylous says flight nurses, paramedics and pilots are some of the most experienced in their professions. She says she will be working closely with her team to help them overcome this tragedy so they can continue using their helicopter to save lives.
“I had a phone call from my daughter from college saying, ‘Hey, mom, are you sure you still want to do this?,'” recalls Baylous. “I assured her that I did, that I had full trust and confidence in my team and my pilots and everything that we do.”
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration spent the weekend at the crash site conducting a preliminary investigation and clearing the wreckage. The NTSB tells 10 On Your Side that there is no timeline for determining the cause of the crash.
Bartlett is survived by her daughters Tiffany Bartlett Thompson and Tracy Bartlett, son Lennard Bartlett Jr. and husband Lennard Bartlett Sr.