Dayton Daily News
Crew of downed medical helicopter remembered
Ambulances, GROVE CITY — firetrucks and police cruisers packed the parking lot of Grove City’s Church of the Nazarene Wednesday morning. Two American flags hung from ladder trucks near the church’s entrances, waving in the morning’s rain.
They welcomed several hundred first responders and members of the public who joined family and friends to honor the three-person Survival Flight crew killed in a medical helicopter crash in southeastern Ohio last week.
Pilot Jennifer L. Topper, 34, of Sunbury, and flight nurses Bradley J. Haynes, 48, of London, and Rachel L. Cunningham, 33, of the Far West Side, died Jan. 29 when their 1996 Bell 407 helicopter went down in Zaleski State Forest. The crew was on its way to Holzer Meigs medical center in Pomeroy for a medical transport mission to Mount Carmel’s Grove City hospital.
Fellow Survival Flight crew members filed into the sanctuary, wearing white carnations on their flight suits. Crews from MedFlight, CareFlight and Air Evac Lifeteam followed.
Three black-and-white photographs of Topper, Cunningham and Haynes faced the crowd from the stage. Beside them sat chairs draped with flight suits and helmets; behind them a white cross glowed.
Family members and coworkers took turns sharing memories of their loved ones, who, though different in so many ways, shared one thing in common: “They sacrificed everything to help those who couldn’t help themselves,” said Rich Cunningham, Rachel’s brother-inlaw.
Cunningham said Rachel, whom he always considered more of a sister than an in-law, was a fearless and honest woman. Someone who always said “yes.” A loving wife and adored aunt. Coworkers remembered a diligent nurse who loved scary movies but was scared of her own shadow.
Dustin Baker dabbed his eyes between thoughts as he shared memories of his cousin, Jennifer Topper, who joined the Navy after high school and worked hard to become a rescue swimmer, dropping into the ocean from military choppers.
Topper was a lover of mimosas, bacon and her partner and fellow Survival Flight pilot, Heath Beecher. She was a free soul, Baker said, and, like Cunningham and Haynes, loved her job.
“They all chose a career that required them to risk it all for hope,” Baker said.
Jefferson Township Fire Chief Paul “Buck” Van Horn said Haynes, who also worked for the department as a firefighter and paramedic, lived a life dedicated to helping others. He also had a long list of hobbies: karate, duck hunting, dog training and harness racing, to name a few.
Haynes’ body was escorted from Nelsonville, near the crash site, to West Jefferson last Thursday by fire, police and sheriff ’s departments from all over the state. Van Horn said his escort was a testament to the passion and service Haynes had for his job.