Crash victim's parents at NTSB hearing

Family: crash was preventable
February 3, 2009 9:23:26 PM PST
A public hearing began Tuesday in Washington on the safety of medical helicopters. It follows a string of deadly crashes, including one in Aurora back in October that killed four people, including a young child. The mother of a child killed during an Air Angels flight in Aurora took her battle to improve safety to Washington.

Brooke Blockinger says she believes the crash that killed her daughter and three other people was preventable.

The National Transportation Safety board has begun public hearings on the safety of medical helicopters.

Commercial aviation has been remarkably safe, but over the last six years, at least 77 people nationwide have died in medical helicopter crashes. And last year was the worst year yet.

Relatives of many of those victims are pushing for safety changes including a young family for whom the pain is still raw.

"She fought and she fought and she fought to stay here everyday," said Brooke Blockinger, mother of Kirsten.

Brooke and Robert Blockinger drove to Washington DC where they are listening and watching this week as the NTSB tries to determine why there have been so many EMS helicopter crashes, and what needs to be done to fix it.

There were 13 air ambulance crashes last year with 29 fatalities. Brooke and Robert's daughter Kirsten was one of them. For most of her 14 months, she had suffered seizures and on October 15, she was being airlifted to Children's Memorial.

The Air Angels helicopter she was in hit a radio tower guy wire in Aurora and went down killing all four aboard.

"I do believe her accident was preventable and it's unacceptable," said Brooke Blockinger.

While she and her family have been grieving, Brooke Blockinger and her husband - who's a paramedic - have also been studying, and they've learned what the NTSB already knew - that many EMS helicopters - like the one that carried their daughter - operate without terrain awareness warning systems and without standard flight risk assessments.

Two years ago, the NTSB recommended those things be required, but the FAA has not done that yet.

"I think we'll see some change come out of this. It will be good. I don't know if it will happen as quickly as we would like it," said Steve Ogletree, Kirsten's grandfather.

And a young mother - who acknowledges she's still learning - is determined to keep fighting.

"To not let another mother or father or little brother have to ever go through this again," said Brooke Blockinger.

It'll be another six months or more before the NTSB establishes a probable cause in last October's Air Angels crash, but the more immediate issue in this week-long special hearing is finding common threads among the crashes, and determining what to do about it. The safety board has a pretty good picture.

The FAA testifies on Friday.