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'Painful memory': UND aerospace dean opens up about mental health help for pilots after deadly student plane crash

The dean of UND's aerospace program says they're still working to move forward after a tragic and painful loss. 19-year-old John Hauser died in a plane crash in what appears to be a suicide.

Editor's note: If you or a loved one is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 ( 1-800-273-TALK) .

GRAND FORKS — Dual and solo flights have resumed at the University of North Dakota after taking a week off following the tragic events of Oct. 18.

As future pilots take off to log more hours in the air, there is one very important message in the cockpit: "Educating our students that it is OK to talk to somebody and resources are available," said Bob Kraus, the dean of the aerospace program at UND.

All flights were grounded two weeks ago when a plane being flown by 19-year-old John Hauser nosedived from midair into a farm field near Buxton.

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Investigators say they found no mechanical problems. A suicide call was placed to 911 at the time of the crash.
The sophomore commercial aviation student from Chicago had reportedly been struggling with mental health issues.

Hauser's parents have started a memorial fund in their son's honor to help students in the aviation program at UND get the mental health help they need. To donate, visit https://undalumni.org/JohnsFund

Program leaders say they were totally unaware. The dean of the program said there are gates to provide checks and balances.

"We will look at our scheduling system, our processes, to say is there something we are doing that is creating stress, or causing issues. Whether it was a factor or not, things that can make it better for everyone," explained Kraus.

UND is trying to help change the culture in the aviation profession.

"Airline pilots don't want to go to the doctor. You don't want to go talk to a counselor or a doctor, because the first thing they'll say is you're grounded," said Kraus.

The aviation program at UND is in the process of hiring a counselor who has an aviation background.

In some cases students will be able to remain anonymous.

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They are also seeking mental health advice from the major airlines. At the time of the crash, an internal mental health task force created last spring was in the process of reviewing surveys filled out by students and professors to find out what is stressing them out and what pressure points can be fixed.

One issue mentioned was the eagerness for students to have their careers take off fast.

"What is causing the stress is they are trying to get their foot out the door — the speed which they are trying to get to the airlines — and anything that gets in the way is a setback," Kraus said. "We have to educate students that things will happen, and you will get where you want to go, it may just take a little longer."

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"We see through the data that when we have a high vaccination rate in facilities, absolutely we have less infection there," said North Dakota Long Term Care Association President Shelly Peterson. "It really does work. It really does make a difference."
They say the surging pandemic is stressing health systems by not only sending more people to the hospital, but also by taking staff away who are either sick with COVID-19, recovering, or have to stay home as caregivers because the virus has closed child care centers.
For the second day in a row, North Dakota reported more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases, a single-day threshold it had not met at any point during the pandemic prior to this week. Virus hospitalizations have climbed from 122 in the first week of January to 170 on Thursday.