4 killed in helicopter crash in Chicago suburb

October 16, 2008 12:47:49 PM PDT
A medical helicopter carrying a 1-year-old patient crashed and burned in a suburban Chicago forest preserve overnight, killing all four aboard. The aircraft apparently clipped a radio tower, and authorities Thursday were investigating whether the tower's lights had been on. It was the sixth fatal crash involving medical helicopters this year, according to federal data, including one just last month in Maryland that also killed four.

The helicopter carrying 1-year-old Kirstian Blockinger of Leland was headed for Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago from Valley West Hospital in Sandwich when it went down minutes before midnight Wednesday, Aurora police spokesman Sgt. Rob Wallers said.

John Brannen with the National Transportation Safety Board said the helicopter apparently clipped the radio tower support wire before the crash. A snapped wire could be seen hanging from the 734-foot tower that stands across a busy road from the crash site.

Brannen said the helicopter was flying about 50 feet below the top of the tower when the wire was clipped. He said NTSB was investigating whether lights on the tower were on at the time or could have been knocked out during the incident.

"I can say that when I was out here last night after the accident that the lights on the tower were not lit," Brannen said Thursday.

Authorities said engineers were evaluating the tower's stability. No one on the ground was hurt.

Children's Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Julie Pesch said the child was en route to the Chicago hospital after a closer hospital had no room for her there. She initially said the girl had suffered epileptic seizures, but later said she could not reveal the nature of the medical problem because of privacy rules.

Wallers said the helicopter belonged to Air Angels Inc., an emergency medical transport service based in suburban Bolingbrook.

Air Angels CEO Jim Adams told reporters the helicopter's crew consisted of the pilot, a nurse and a paramedic. The pilot did not report mechanical problems, and weather was not an issue, he said.

Aurora police identified the three as Dell Waugh, 69; William Mann, 31; and Ronald Battiato, 41, but did not specify which one held which position in the crew.

Investigators of the National Transportation Safety Board were at the accident scene, Wallers said.

The girl was initially to go to Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, but its pediatric intensive care unit was full. That would have required a shorter helicopter trip, but the crash occurred before the helicopter would have reached either hospital.

On Sept. 28, a medical helicopter carrying traffic accident victims crashed in a Maryland suburb, killing four of the five people on board. On June 8, a copter crashed on an isolated ranch in the Sam Houston National Forest in Texas, killing a patient and three crew members. Those and other crashes have raised questions on whether medical ambulance flights are overused.

A January 2003 crash killed an Air Angels pilot. The company had another crash in August of last year, but no one was hurt that time.

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