A toddler being flown to a hospital died in a fiery helicopter crash with three crew members when the aircraft clipped a radio tower wire and went down in a suburban Chicago field, authorities said Thursday.
Federal authorities said they were investigating whether the tower's lights were on at the time of the fatal crash minutes before midnight Wednesday — the sixth involving medical helicopters in the U.S. this year. Meanwhile, about 1,000 people who live near the 734-foot tower were advised to leave their homes because of damage to the structure.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator John Brannen said the helicopter was flying about 50 feet lower than the top of the tower when the wire was hit.
“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. He said the NTSB was investigating whether the lights could have been knocked out during the incident.
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The Air Angels helicopter was carrying 1-year-old Kirstin Blockinger to Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago when it crashed just before midnight.
A snapped wire hung from the tower across a busy road from where a twisted helicopter rotor blade could be seen near the field's edge. The crash site farther back was secured by yellow police tape and not visible from the road.
Aurora police Sgt. Chris Whitfield said that after engineers assessed the tower, residents within 1,000 feet of it were advised to evacuate their homes. Police said engineers will use a helicopter to make repairs starting Friday.
Authorities removed the helicopter's yellow-and-white rotor from the scene Thursday afternoon, using a front-end loader to lift the badly mangled blade onto a flatbed truck.
Air Angels CEO Jim Adams said operations at the Bolingbrook-based emergency medical transport service were being suspended until company officials can determine with federal investigators that the crash was not an event that could be repeated. Adams said he did not know how long that might take.