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posted: 3/17/2010 12:01 AM

NTSB rules pilot error caused 2008 Aurora helicopter crash

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  • Rescue workers searched a field off Eola Road in Aurora for days following the Oct. 15, 2008, Air Angels medical helicopter crash that killed all four people aboard - including the 1-year-old patient.

      Rescue workers searched a field off Eola Road in Aurora for days following the Oct. 15, 2008, Air Angels medical helicopter crash that killed all four people aboard - including the 1-year-old patient.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 

The National Transportation Safety Board has ruled pilot error was the probable cause of the Oct. 15, 2008, Air Angels medical helicopter crash in Aurora that killed four, including 1-year-old Kirstin Blockinger of Leland.

A DuPage County Airport air traffic controller's failure to issue a safety warning also is listed as a contributing factor in the agency's final report, recently released to the public.

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A preliminary report issued by the same agency in January 2009 said a global positioning device used in the helicopter was not equipped with a system that could detect terrain and warn of obstacles.

The Air Angels Inc. medical helicopter was en route from Valley West Community Hospital in Sandwich to Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago just before midnight when it apparently clipped a WBIG radio tower just west of Eola Road near Liberty Street in Aurora and crashed in an adjacent field.

The NTSB's final report points to negligence by pilot Del Waugh, 69, of Carmel, Ind., as the primary cause of the crash.

"The pilot's failure to maintain clearance from the 734-foot-tall lighted tower during the visual night flight due to inadequate preflight planning, insufficient altitude and a flight route too low to clear the tower," the report states in assessing the blame. "Contributing to the accident was the air traffic controller's failure to issue a safety alert as required by (the Federal Aviation Administration)."

The report indicates it was Waugh's "responsibility to see and avoid the radio tower," but that a safety alert should have been issued when the controller noticed the helicopter was on course to hit the tower.

NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart did not approve of the report listing the controller error as a factor in the crash and filed a dissenting statement,

"Seeing and avoiding obstacles is solely and exclusively the responsibility of the pilot in command, with no exceptions," Hart wrote.

Waugh was killed in the crash along with flight nurse William Mann, 31, of Chicago; paramedic Ron Battiato, 41, of Peotone; and little Kirstin Blockinger.

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the report closes the agency's book on the crash but not before recommending medical helicopter companies install terrain warning systems in the aircrafts.

There were seven fatal medical helicopter crashes in 2008 that claimed 28 lives, up from two crashes in 2007 that killed seven people.

Kirstin Blockinger's parents are suing REACH Medical Holdings of California, the now defunct Air Angels, Inc. of Bolingbrook and Waugh's estate over the girl's death. They are seeking unspecified damages in their lawsuit, which is in the discovery phase in Cook County Circuit Court.

Don Adams, spokesman for family attorney Donald J. Nolan of the Nolan Law Group, said the family was aware of the NTSB ruling but would not comment.

"We have outlined the acts and counts of negligence in the original filing," Adams said. "We have no further statement."

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