The fatal collision on June 29th involving two medical helicopters in Arizona was the sixth crash involving emergency helicopters since May. This made the last two months one of the deadliest periods in the history of this fast-growing industry. Sixteen people have died this year in seven crashes, which involved eight helicopters, according to federal data. In fact, thirteen of the deaths have come since May, which has caused great concern. There has been tremendous growth in the use of medical helicopters in the U.S. About 750 medical helicopters are currently operating in this country, about twice the number that were flying a decade ago. Medical helicopters were once operated mostly by hospitals, but in recent years private companies, including some that are publicly traded, have come to dominate the industry.
According to Mark Rosenker, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, his agency is greatly concerned about the increase in crashes. The board began to investigate the industry after a rash of accidents in 2004 and 2005. In a report in 2006, the NTSB found that operators had failed to develop comprehensive flight risk programs, and that pilots often did not have adequate information about bad weather they might have encountered or equipment to alert them to dangerous terrain. The board called for stricter flight rules and improved accident-avoidance equipment, among other recommendations. While the Federal Aviation Administration accepted all of the board’s recommendations, only a few of them have been implemented.
In the latest crash in Arizona, six people were killed and one was critically injured. The crash occurred as each helicopter was on its final approach to Flagstaff Medical Center. FAA says it’s putting changes into effect that could include new weather requirements for flights and stricter rules for pilot instrument competency. The Times reported that “some industry critics have questioned whether companies eager to profit from flights are sending helicopters to pick up patients who could have been transported more cheaply, and at less risk, by ground ambulance.” It was noted that there may be pressure to fly “because most companies are owned by publicly owned entities.”
This rash of crashes involving medical helicopters is a cause for great concern. In early June, four people were killed when a medical helicopter crashed near Huntsville, Texas. Three people were killed in May when a medical helicopter crashed near La Crosse, Wisconsin, and another three died in a crash in February of a medical helicopter off South Padre Island in Texas. In late May, maternity patients in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had to be evacuated after a medical helicopter crashed on a hospital’s roof. A medical helicopter crashed 30 miles outside Prescott, Arizona, injuring the three crew members, one of them seriously. Hopefully, government regulators will take the necessary steps to make this growing industry put safety at the top of its priority list.
Source: New York Times
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