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Another Medical Helicopter Crash Kills Three

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, September 28, 2009 10:02 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Emergency Helicopter, Medical Helicopter, NTSB, Helicopter Crash

One day after safety recommendations, another medical helicopter crash kills three.

Goes Down In Thunderstorm

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IMAGE SOURCE: AP Web site/ NTSB investigators sort through debris, Sept. 27/ Georgetown County, SC

One day after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued 21 recommendations on how to make air ambulance flights safer, another has occurred.

Federal investigators have no clue what brought down a medical helicopter about 11:30 p.m. Friday night in Georgetown County, South Carolina, northeast of Charleston.

The Carolina Lifecare crew and helicopter had just delivered a patient to a Charleston hospital and was heading north to Conway when it went down with three crew members on board. None survived.

The NTSB says all of the helicopter parts have been accounted for and there is no indication what went wrong before it crashed in a remote area about 20 feet from a logging road.

NTSB notes there was rain in the area and the helicopter was in between two intense thunderstorms. An examination of the site indicates the helicopter may have landed nose down and inverted then burst into flames.

There is no cockpit voice recorder on board as it is not required.

"If there had been damage, it might indicate that it had frozen up in flight," he said. "But at this point, it is completely free-moving. So it would indicate that it was turning as it should have been at the time of the crash” said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt to AP.

NTSB Recommendations

After the worst year in emergency medical helicopters crashes - 12 fatal helicopter medical ambulance accidents that killed 35 people between December 2007 and October 2008 - the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held hearings push for more safety measures to be incorporated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and mandated on air ambulance operators.

This past week, NTSB chair Debora Hersman made four recommendations to prevent accidents and save lives that resulted from NTSB hearing in February.

The most sweeping of changes - a proposal that Medicare pay for flights where pilots have received safety training and comply with standards developed by Medicare. Currently reimbursement is not covered by insurance companies and the NTSB was concerned that companies were cutting corners and avoiding capital investments and improvements to maintain profit.

The NTSB recommends the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reimbursement for those operators complying with safety standards.

The NTSB recommendations includes adopting minimum safety accreditation standards for helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS); increase safety include additional pilot training; greater air pathways dedicated to emergency medical transports; the use of autopilot to help single pilots; and wider use of night-vision goggles and terrain awareness monitors.

The NTSB has no regulatory authority and can only make safety recommendations to other agencies such as the FAA and the agency that oversees government insurance programs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The number of helicopters has doubled every decade since 1980 and now stands at 830, according to a Washington Post investigation. Yet the industry can fly without safety features that commercial airlines are required to have, such as terrain warning systems or flight data recorders.

Crashes generally occur when patients are not on board. Medical helicopters with patients are required to fly under air charter standards, which contain strict requirements about flight and duty times and weather conditions.

This was the second crash of an Omniflight Helicopters Inc., the Texas-based company that operated this helicopter. Last July 2, a Carolina Lifecare helicopter was damaged while landing at a hospital heliport in Horry County. No one was hurt in that incident. #


1 Comment

Posted by Long Island Personal Injury Attorney
Monday, October 05, 2009 11:10 AM EST

Should the same rule of thumb for the "black box" recorder be inserted into medical helicopter standards to gain insight into these situations?

Comments for this article are closed.

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