Emergency transport company closes

Friday, February 20, 2009

BOLINGBROOK, Ill. -- An emergency transport company is going out of business after being sued by the parents of a girl killed in a medical helicopter crash.

More than 30 employees of Bolingbrook-based Air Angels Inc. received 60-day termination notices, the company said in a Thursday statement announcing the immediate end of its operations.

Last month, the parents of 1-year-old Kirstin Blockinger filed suit against Air Angels, claiming known safety measures could have prevented the girl's death in a crash that also killed three adults on board.

The Air Angels helicopter clipped a radio tower guy wire, crashed into a nearby field and burst into flames. It was flying at least 100 feet lower than the company's standard procedure before the crash, according to a federal report.

The lawsuit will proceed, said Tom Ellis, a spokesman for Chicago's Nolan Law Group, which represents the young victim's parents, Brooke and Robert Blockinger of Leland.

The wrongful death suit seeks unspecified damages from Air Angels; its parent company, Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Reach Medical Holdings Inc.; and the estate of pilot Del Waugh, of Carmel, Ind., who died in the crash.

Reach Medical Holdings CEO Jim Adams said in the statement the "difficult decision" to close was based on "recent and ongoing events" without being more specific. A message seeking comment from a public relations firm representing Air Angels was not immediately returned.

"It is especially painful to make a business decision that requires not only the loss of employment of many people, but a reduction in valuable life-saving services to their community, as well," Adams said in the statement.

Air Angels officials planned to contact hospitals and emergency medical services agencies to make sure transportation would be available to patients.

Reach Medical Holdings purchased Air Angels in 2007.

In 2003, an Air Angels pilot was killed when he crashed his helicopter while practicing maneuvers.

"You would have hoped Reach would come in and have learned from that prior accident," Ellis said. "Rather than make it safer, they chose to ignore safety recommendations."

The National Transportation Safety Board's final report on the crash is expected some time next year.

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