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4 Killed in Helicopter Crash in Chicago Suburb

AURORA, Ill. -- A medical helicopter crashed in a Chicago suburb, killing three crewmembers and a 13-month-old patient, authorities said early Thursday.

The helicopter was headed to Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago from Valley West Hospital in Sandwich when it went down minutes before midnight, said Aurora police spokesman Sgt. Robb Wallers.

Children's Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Julie Pesch initially said the child, a girl, was being transported to the hospital because of epileptic seizures. She later said the child's symptoms were not clear.

The helicopter may have clipped a wire before it crashed and burned, according to authorities. The guide-wire came from a 750-foot tall radio tower, said assistant Fire Chief John Lehman, who added there is some concern about the tower's structural integrity and engineers are evaluating it.

Wallers said the helicopter belonged to Air Angels Inc., an emergency medical transport service based at Clow Airport in suburban Bolingbrook. Telephone calls to the Air Angels offices were not answered early Thursday.

However, Air Angels CEO Jim Adams told the Chicago Tribune that the helicopter's crew included the pilot, nurse and a paramedic employed by the company. He added the helicopter's pilot did not report mechanical problems, and weather was not an issue.

According to Wallers, the helicopter crashed in a field near a residential area in east Aurora and was engulfed in flames. No one on the ground was hurt.

The Aurora crash is the third involving Air Angels helicopters. In January 2003, an Air Angels helicopter crashed killing the pilot. Investigators determined pilot error and weather caused the accident. Mechanical problems was blamed for an August 2007 crash in which there were no injuries.

It was at least the ninth fatal crash in the past 12 months across the country involving medical transport helicopters. Observers say the accident demonstrates a disturbing rise in the number of emergency air transport crashes, and wonder if a system designed to save lives may be costing them.

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