Medical Helicopter Crash
The tragedy of any medical helicopter crash is that the pilot and healthcare workers are all there for one reason: to safely transport patients to a hospital or other medical facility. But some are wondering how “safe” helicopter medevac really is. As of early July 2008, there were six medical helicopter crashes for the year, and three other medical aircraft accidents, all of which claimed the lives of 16 people. Thirteen of those deaths happened in May and June, making it one of the deadliest two-month periods in industry history.
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One crash involved two medevac helicopters near a Flagstaff, AZ hospital. Both were traveling from different directions and collided about a half-mile from the hospital on approach to the landing pad. In all, seven people died and two were seriously injured.
This accident is not unusual – in fact it is part of a disturbing trend. According to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) stats, there were 14 air ambulance crashes in 2007, resulting in 24 deaths. In 2006, there were 13 accidents and 10 deaths.
Medical Helicopter Crash Rate Too High, Some Say
After a rash of similar medical helicopter crashes in 2004 and 2005, the NTSB opened an investigation and compiled a number of recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). But, says NTSB chairman Mark Rosenker, the FAA may not be moving fast enough to implement these changes – changes that could save lives.
“The latest spate of accidents has given the board concern that the FAA may not be moving as quickly as necessary,” he told the New York Times.
In reality, the problem has been growing since the 1990s. In the six years from 2002 to 2008, the number of medical helicopters doubled to about 800 operating across the US. Some are operated by the hospitals themselves, but others are operated by private companies looking to cash in on the growing boom.
And booming it is, for a number of reasons. Emergency rooms in rural areas are closing down, forcing medevacs by ground and air to other hospitals. But many medical helicopters are transferring non-emergency patients from one facility to another – in essence, they are not EMS helicopters so much as medical taxis.
“The vast majority of patients could have done well in a ground ambulance,” Dr. Bryan Bledsoe, professor at the University of Nevada School of Medicine and former flight paramedic told the New York Times. “There is pressure to fly because most companies are owned by publicly-owned entities.”
Who’s Overseeing the Helicopter Medevac Industry?
Regulation is another part of the problem. Although all helicopter companies must follow FAA rules, inspections are rare due to manpower shortages. This, coupled with rising fuel costs and other financial pressures means that safety equipment like improved accident-avoidance systems and in some cases even basic maintenance procedures are left to slide.
Still, pilot error is the number one cause of medical helicopter crashes. As in the Flagstaff accident above, there is no air traffic control around a hospital, so pilots must be on the lookout themselves for other aircraft. But the simple fact is, until there is greater regulation of the industry, medevac helicopter accidents will likely continue to rise.
Have You Been In a Helicopter Accident?
If you or a loved one has been injured in a medical helicopter crash, you have the right to seek compensation for your hospital bills, lost work, and pain and suffering. Call David P. Willis today for a free consultation and learn your rights. No matter what the cause of the accident, the air ambulance company, hospitals, and perhaps other parties all have the responsibility of ensuring you arrive safely.
Do not wait – vital evidence could disappear and your rights could be severely compromised if you do not act quickly. Call us right now for free advice and then decide if seeking compensation is the right course of action for you.