The patient killed in Monday’s air ambulance crash went to the emergency room three times in 24 hours before doctors discovered a serious heart problem, her daughter said.
Linda Fritts, 48, was barely conscious when medical workers at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Pasco finally put her on a plane to Spokane, said daughter Cheri Fritts.
“Her last words were, ‘I love you guys, too,’ and she just closed her eyes again,” Fritts said. “Then they put her on the plane.”
The Aeromed plane crashed into an industrial building as it approached foggy Spokane International Airport, killing Fritts, the pilot and a nurse.
Only paramedic Harold Livingston survived. The Finley, Wash., man was in serious condition Wednesday at Harborview Burn Center in Seattle with burns covering nearly half his body.
Federal investigators who have spent the past two days combing the wreckage remain puzzled by the crash.
“A lot of evidence-gathering needs to be done,” said Jeff Guzzetti of the National Transportation Safety Board. “This one is a mystery right now but, hopefully, we’ll be able to solve it in time.”
Friends and relatives of Linda Fritts have their own unanswered questions.
They want to know why the diagnosis of a torn aorta was so slow in coming.
Fritts made two earlier trips to the Pasco hospital - on Sunday and again on Monday. The woman also called an ambulance to her Tri-Cities home and was treated there.
She complained about numbness in her arms and legs and pain in her esophagus but initially was advised to take antacids, family members said.
Fritts, a bookstore worker, was a healthy woman with no history of heart problems. She rarely saw a doctor and didn’t carry health insurance, said her daughter.
On Fritts’ final trip to the hospital, she was in an accident and a police officer drove her the rest of the way, Cheri Fritts said.
Cheri Fritts and her twin sister, Michelle, drove to Spokane to meet their mother at Deaconess Medical Center but learned the plane had crashed when they called ahead on a cellular telephone.
Pasco hospital officials refused to discuss Fritts’ case Wednesday without the family’s written permission.
Co-workers described Fritts as a grandmother with an encyclopedic memory. She volunteered as a guardian ad litem in Juvenile Court.
“Her first and abiding interest was troubled adolescents,” said Cleo Scharf, a close friend.
In related developments Wednesday, investigators wrapped up their inspection of the plane’s wreckage at the Ace Tank & Equipment Co. building. Investigators are sending both engines of the Cessna 401 to a laboratory for tests.
Guzzetti said the right engine will be taken apart for inspection. Technicians will try to restart the left engine, which is nearly intact, to see if it works.
The navigational equipment was so badly burned that no useful information can be learned from it, Guzzetti said.
A small piece of metal was discovered near a wooden utility pole that was sheared off by the descending plane. It came from the underside of the left wing near the engine, suggesting that’s where the plane struck the pole before the crash.
A preliminary report is to be released next week, but the final report might not be available for six months.
Ace Tank, which manufactures tanks for gasoline and chemical products, still is waiting for an appraisal of damage to the building and its contents.
Bill Frers, the company’s branch manager, said most contract work is being shifted to Ace’s main office in Seattle. He said he hopes the welders would be sent to Seattle, too, so they can continue to work while repairs are made.
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