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Air Angels Shuts Down Chicago-Area Operations

CHICAGO -- Four months ago, an emergency medical transport helicopter operated by Air Angels Inc. crashed in an Aurora field, killing all four people aboard. It was the second fatal crash for the company since 2003.

On Thursday, the company announced that "recent and ongoing events lead us to believe that our venture in Illinois is no longer viable," and Air Angels closed its offices at airports in Bolingbrook and West Chicago immediately.

The crash occurred Oct. 15 after the Bell 222 helicopter, which was transporting 13-month-old Kirstin Blockinger of Leland, Ill., struck a radio tower support wire. Kirstin, who was being treated for seizures, died along with pilot Del Waugh, 69, of Carmel, Ind.; nurse William Mann Jr., 31, of Chicago; and paramedic Ronald Battiato, 41, of Peotone.

Accident investigators' tentatively have cited pilot error as a cause in the crash. Kirstin Blockinger's family filed suit in January against Air Angels, its parent company, Reach Medical Holdings and Waugh's estate. The complaint, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges widespread negligence and failure to practice federal safety recommendations.

At least 77 people have died in 85 medical helicopter accidents in the last six years, the National Transportation Safety Board reports. The total of 35 fatalities in 2008 was the deadliest on record.

Air Angels Chief Executive Officer Jim Adams in a statement Thursday noted that "Air Angels pilots, nurses and paramedics cared for and successfully transported thousands of patients to regional health-care facilities and emergency agencies throughout Illinois, Indiana and surrounding states" since the company's founding in 1998. In closing the Illinois offices, Air Angels dismissed 33 employees, Adams said.

"Representatives of Air Angels will be contacting regional hospitals, emergency medical services agencies, and other transport providers," he said, "in order to assure that both ground and air transportation for critically ill and injured patients will be uninterrupted."

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