September 8th, 2009|
Life flight or air ambulance services provide an important and often life saving service for those critically injured in a crash. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have recently been diligently working on implementing new safety rules governing the helicopter emergency medical services industry (HEMS). In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in crashes relating to the air ambulance industry. In 2005, USA Today did their own investigation and analysis and concluded that “since 2000, 60 people died in 84 crashes – more than double the number of crashes during the previous five years” The Wall Street Journal recently reported that in 2008 there were 13 medical helicopter crashes and 29 deaths. Finally, on September 1, 2009, four years since the dramatic increase in fatalities was brought to light, the NTSB issued 19 recommendations regarding helicopter emergency medical services.
After a four day public hearing in February 2009, to examine safety issues relating to an industry that has grown substantially over the years, recommendations were issued relating to pilot training, collection and analysis of flight, weather and safety data, flight data monitoring, development of a low altitude airspace infrastructure and the use of night vision imagine systems. Often emergency medical helicopters are in flight during poor weather conditions or at night and are landing in less than ideal locations. The pilots are aware that lives often depend on their ability and willingness to fly in less than optimal conditions. “‘The pressure on HEMS operators to conduct their flights quickly in all sorts of environments makes these types of operations inherently more risky than other types of commercial flight operations,’ said NTSB Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman. ‘Operators need every available safety tool to conduct these flights and to determine when the risk of flying is just too great.’”
Jamie Lebovitz, aviation attorney at Nurenberg Paris, is experienced in handling emergency medical helicopter crash cases. See the USA Today’s article “Surge in crashes scars air ambulance industry” for details concerning his Air Evac Lifeteam air ambulance case regarding a night flight and faulty altimeter. The crash caused the death of the patient they were transporting. The long overdue recommendations recently made by the NTSB give families who lost loved ones in air ambulance and life flight helicopters some satisfaction in knowing changes are on the horizon to prevent future crashes and fatalities.