STAR Flight crews shaken 'to the core' after nurse's death

Travis County EMS Chief Ernesto Rodriguez says Monday night first responders were having a hard time finding a victim that had fallen off of a 13-foot cliff in the Barton Creek green belt.

"Of course we've had rain several days previous so it was very slippery, there was a lot of shrubbery and there were cliffs that were dangerous," Rodriguez said.

So he says STAR Flight was the best option. At 9:30, 46-year-old flight nurse Kristen McLain was lowered down to the victim.

"The patient was lifted along with the flight nurse and were in the process of moving to a school where they were going to move that patient to another ambulance," Rodriguez said.

But McLain didn't make it to the school.

STAR Flight crews radioed for a search party. Meanwhile, 911 calls started coming in from people on the ground who had found McLain with severe injuries.

On Wednesday first responders saluted McLain. Her STAR Flight family carried her casket covered with an American flag. Her body was then escorted to a Lakeway funeral home.

But the investigation into what happened is just beginning.

Craig Hatch with the National Transportation Safety Board says they're looking at the people involved and the equipment. He says STAR Flight does have an imaging system but they have to determine how valuable the tapes are to the investigation.

"I have those and they have not been reviewed at this point. They have to go to our laboratory in DC," Hatch said.

STAR Flight director Casey Ping was emotional during the press conference.

"She was a close friend," Ping said. "The problem with Kristen wasn't getting her involved with something it was trying to keep her out of everything. She's literally touched everything in our program," Ping said.

As far as the hoist and harness, Ping says McLain was wearing standard issued equipment that they have used many times. He says crew members check the equipment themselves, on top of annual inspections and replacement every 5 years.

"It's also kind of shaken us to the core as far as what we do. The things that our crews go out and do require a lot of confidence and equipment and training and all of those things and so there's a lot of self doubt and a lot of self reflection of how we're doing with that so that's one of the reasons that we have not been taking calls because we need to process through that," Ping said.

Ping says an internal review is coming. The NTSB says the investigation will take about a year but STAR Flight won't wait for that to get back into the skies.

In the mean time, other agencies are covering this area if they're needed.


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