Report: Flight nurse 'likely' not properly fastened in fatal fall

Kristin McLain was helping hoist an injured woman with non-life threatening injuries into a helicopter when she fell


By Phillip Jankowski
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — Staff at Travis County’s air rescue outfit will likely have to come to grips with the possibility that they will never know exactly what caused one of their colleagues to fall to her death during a patient rescue nearly a year ago, their leader said Wednesday.

With no evidence of any equipment failure, the federal agency tasked with investigating the death of STAR Flight rescuer Kristin McLain, 46, determined that she was likely not properly attached to the helicopter’s hoist when she fell about 100 feet during a rescue in the Barton Creek Greenbelt.

It should have been a routine rescue, STAR Flight director Casey Ping said Wednesday, making his first public comments since the National Transportation and Safety Bureau issued its findings. Witnesses of the April 27 incident reported nothing unusual before McLain and an injured hiker were lifted from the Greenbelt.

“We have this period of time, 30 seconds, where we really don’t know what happened,” Ping said.

McLain’s death resulted in an internal and independent reviews of safety procedures at STAR Flight. In the aftermath of the tragedy, STAR Flight instituted a policy that might have saved McLain’s life. The policy made it mandatory for STAR Flight to request a safety check by at least one non-STAR Flight rescue worker on the ground before a rescuer is hoisted.

According to the safety board’s report, a firefighter at the scene asked McLain if she needed one of them to check her equipment before she was hoisted. She replied that she was fine.

STAR Flight rescuers are also now required to conduct an additional safety check on their own before being lifted in an air rescue, Ping said.

As a tribute to McLain, every year from now on STAR Flight personnel will wear their blue uniforms during the week that marks the anniversary of her death. McLain had called the brown suits that air rescuers now wear ugly; she much preferred its older blue ones, Ping said.

“I think organizationally we are healing,” Ping said. “Our goal is to remember her and try to learn what we can because that is what she would want us to do — to go on but not forget.”

Copyright 2016 Austin American-Statesman
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