Three crew members were killed on August 31st when the medical helicopter they were aboard crashed in central Arkansas. The Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter was flying to pick up a traffic accident victim when it went down in Van Buren County at about 4:30 a.m. They were flying under visual flight rules and it doesn’t appear they were talking to any air traffic controllers at the time. No patients were aboard the Bell 206 aircraft. The helicopter, built in 1978, was registered to Air Evac EMS Inc., based in West Plains, Missouri.
Air Evac Lifeteam President and CEO Seth Myers said in a news release that the helicopter was equipped with night vision gear. Investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. Apparently there was no distress call and at press time, the cause of the crash hadn’t been determined. The crash site is about 80 miles north of Little Rock in central Arkansas.
As we have reported previously, Air Evac has experienced several fatal crashes in recent years. In 2008, an Air Evac helicopter crashed in an Indiana cornfield killing three people. In 2007, another three-member crew was killed when an Air Evac helicopter crashed in Colbert County, Alabama In 2006, an Air Evac helicopter crashed in northwest Arkansas, killing the three-member crew. An Air Evac helicopter made a forced landing recently near Tulsa, Oklahoma, after the aircraft’s hydraulics failed. Fortunately, no one was hurt in that incident.
Over the past year, there have been 14 accidents involving air ambulance helicopters with eight fatalities. As pointed out above, since June, four crashes have killed ten people. Advocates for safety improvements are not pushing for stiff new requirements on medevac flights. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued numerous suggested safety improvements for the industry in recent years. The agency has no regulatory authority.
The FAA, which oversees the industry, is writing new rules, but will not unveil them until later this year. Congress has several bills addressing safety, but all of them have stalled in a deadlock over funding for the FAA. The NTSB wants new requirements for equipment that can help prevent pilots from getting disoriented in poor visibility, better pilot training and improved internal monitoring for safety lapses. There are safety issues that must be addressed both by the FAA and by Congress.
Sources: USA Today and Claims Journal
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