August 14, 2008
25 Years of Safety, Then 3 Crashes in 3 Months
By JOHN P. KELLY
FALLEN ANGELSThey crisscrossed the skies, tens of thousands of these Angel Flights, delivering patients and organs and blood safely to airports from Los Angeles to Boston. By some stroke of grace or mercy, not a single patient was harmed in 25 years of these humanitarian flights, one executive said.
Then in June, an Angel fell from the sky.
Then another in July.
Then another on Tuesday.
Three deadly Angel Flight crashes in as many months.
The first two occurred near Tampa, Fla. and in Iowa City. The death toll rose to seven with the crash Tuesday in a shopping plaza parking lot in Easton. Investigators arrived to find the burned and mangled wreckage of a single-engine plane and all three passengers dead.
News of the crash swept quickly through a national network of seven organizations responsible for some 20,000 of the flights each year. "This is really hitting us very hard," Christel Gollnick, chief executive of Angel Flight Central in Kansas City, Mo., said. "We are praying the rule of threes is in play, that this is over now."
Pilots on Angel Flights donate their time and fuel to fly patients for free to distant medical treatment centers - transportation the patients might otherwise not be able to afford.
Gollnick's Midwest group operated the single-engine plane that crashed June 4 at Iowa City Municipal Airport, killing 2-year-old Sydney Blanton, a Georgia infant who had just undergone treatment for clubfoot. Her mother and the pilot were injured.
Then on July 17, another single-engine plane crashed just after takeoff at an airport in East Tampa, Fla., killing the 81-year-old pilot and two passengers. Patricia Snyder, 49, was being flown home after receiving treatment for her lung cancer.
The Long Island couple aboard Tuesday's flight were en route to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to treat the husband's cancer, federal aviation officials said.
The cause of all three crashes remains under investigation.
Gollnick said there had been a few crashes in the past 25 years in which volunteers were killed, but none with a patient onboard.
Of some 7,000 volunteer Angel Flight pilots, a handful fly out of Marshfield Municipal Airport.
Ann Pollard, general manager of Shoreline Aviation Inc. at the airport, said some are retired and all are wealthy enough to pay expensive fuel costs out of their own pockets. Pollard said the likelihood of a crash was bound to rise as the volume of Angel Flights increased. The crashes seem particularly sad, she said, "because somebody is trying to do a good deed for a family, and it ends tragically."
Angel Flight New England has operated since 1996 and is based at Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Andover.
Spokeswoman Amy Camerlin said Tuesday's crash was the organization's first after more than 30,000 flights and the safe transport of some 53,000 patients.
"We're pretty shaken up over here and deeply saddened" Camerlin said.
John P. Kelly may be reached at [email protected]
Originally published by By JOHN P. KELLY, The Patriot Ledger.
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