A Meaningful Memorial

December 15, 2020

A winged, bronze arm reaches down from the skies. Another arm reaches upwards grasping for help. The two hands meet, ready to clasp securely. Supporting all, the star of life, the universal emblem of Emergency Medical Services. 

It is a stirring tribute in memoriam of two tragic, fatal air-medical crashes originating from Elko, Nevada, Regional Airport; a fitting reminder of the risks taken and sacrifices made by air medical crews in pursuit of their ideal of bringing care to the communities they serve at a moment’s notice.

Fitting as well, the design for this sculpture, unveiled recently in Elko, was created by a first responder who arrived on the scene of one of the crashes and knew victims of each crash, REACH flight nurse Warren Archer. For Archer, it was a labor of intense personal meaning that he hopes will inspire others to remember and thank the first responders who protect, serve and rescue those in need.

Two Tragedies
On Aug. 21, 2004, an Access Air helicopter crashed, killing pilot Roger Morrison, flight nurse Lisa Landers, and flight paramedic Todd Hellman. Also killed were two patients, a mother and her infant daughter. More than 12 years later, a Cheyenne Twin Engine Piper II transporting a patient for American Medflight crashed in Elko the evening of Nov. 18, 2016, killing all four on board the plane: pilot Yuji Irie, paramedic Jake Shepherd, flight nurse Tiffany Urresti and one patient being transported for heart surgery.

Archer recalls rushing to the scene of the Medflight crash to rescue the victims, only to find the aircraft engulfed in flames, beyond help. It was a harrowing moment and sobering reminder of what is at stake every time air medical crews take flight.

A Personal Memorial
Archer had known flight paramedic Hellman, a victim of the 2004 crash. He knew, as well, paramedic Shepherd and fellow flight nurse Urresti, who perished in the line of duty in 2016. He was especially close to Urresti and searched for ways to honor the memories of those lost.

Officials at Elko Regional Airport shared that desire to remember the fallen. A plan for a memorial of the 2004 crash had been sidelined. After the 2016 incident, however, there was renewed focus and effort on getting a memorial installed. Working with REACH, Elko Regional sent out a call for designs.

Before his career as a flight nurse, Archer had been a graphic designer and sculptor. Now, he could leverage those skills to properly honor his colleagues and remind others of the ongoing and risk-intense labors of all those in air-medical services. An early design featured his good friend Urresti in her flight suit with angel's wings. But his ultimate submission was more universal and this was selected by the memorial planning committee. 

A Tribute to Air Medical 
The resulting sculpture, which occupied 700 hours of Archer’s time, was unveiled at a dedication ceremony in 2020. Archer was called on to speak. He tearfully recalled the fateful day in 2016 when he was among those responding to the crash site, knowing upon arrival that he could not help his friends. Importantly, he described to 100-plus attendees the significance behind the sculpture.

“The hand rising from this base, the star of life, represents those in need of medical attention,” he explained. “The hand coming down merges into a wing, which represents the angelic help we flight medical personnel provide to those who need our help. The wing represents that angelic service, and it also represents the mode of transportation which we employ in saving the lives and helping those in our community.”

The names of the fallen crews are inscribed at the base of the sculpture. At the ceremony, a REACH helicopter performed a fly-over three times in remembrance and the National Air Medical Memorial in Colorado permitted Elko airport to fly the Memorial’s flag. For Archer, who was joined by Urresti’s family and those of other victims, it was a sad but meaningful day.  

“It gives me a sense of satisfaction to have something honoring these crews. That their sacrifice doesn’t go unremembered,” Archer said after the ceremony. “It’s a tangible visual to say ‘we appreciate you. Thanks for your service.’”

“It’s appropriate to give credit to our first responders across the board. Fire, police, EMS, they keep us safe and protected and help us on some of the worst days of our lives,” he added.

 

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