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UPDATE: Helicopter crash injures 3; investigation begins

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An air ambulance helicopter crashed into a wooded area along Lake Winona in Alexandria early Saturday, critically injuring three people.

A North Memorial Health Care helicopter crashed en route to the Alexandria airport at 2:07 a.m., according to a statement from North Memorial.

Three North Memorial crew members were injured. After being taken to Douglas County Hospital, the crew members were transferred to North Memorial in the Twin Cities.

There were no patients on board.

“I am extremely proud of our team members for their response at the site,” Dr. J. Kevin Croston, CEO of North Memorial Health Care said in a news release. “Our immediate concern is with our crew members who are now being treated at North Memorial Medical Center.  We are glad they are here.  There is no better place to receive care.”

The crash site at 1438 Lakeside Drive is near the eastern shore of Lake Winona and north of the Alexandria Municipal Airport.

An investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the crash site Saturday afternoon to begin gathering information.

He said findings may be available in four to five days.

Observations from the National Weather Service show that light fog was reported at the airport shortly after the crash but at the 2 a.m. reading, there was no reduction in visibility due to fog.

There were low ceilings - about 300 feet - because of cloud cover and winds were light, from the west-northwest about 11 m.p.h.

Shortly after 2 a.m., the Douglas County Sheriff’s office received a 911 call of a possible helicopter crash on the east side of Lake Winona.

North Memorial ambulance transported the three patients to Douglas County Hospital, according to Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen.

Douglas County Hospital was notified of the medical helicopter crash and immediately activated its Emergency Response Plan, calling in staff to assist in the response, according to Carl Vaagenes, the hospital's CEO.

"I am extremely proud of the response and performance from our staff and physicians who were working and everyone who responded to the emergency," Vaagenes said.

Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies, Alexandria Police Department and the Alexandria Fire Department also responded.

Lowell Anderson contributed to this report.