By Staff Writer | March 1, 2009
COMMERCIAL | EMS
Helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) crashes are under the NTSB’s microscope, following public hearings held February 3-6, 2009 in Washington D.C. (See NTSB feature, page 42, for further information on these hearings.) But aviation safety expert Vernon Albert said that the NTSB will not reduce HEMS crashes. "If they only address equipment and don’t do get into problems like ‘medical facilities shopping’." This occurs when a hospital, having been turned down by an HEMS provider due to poor weather, keeps calling around until they find someone who is willing to fly regardless.
"There is no doubt that state-of-the art equipment is needed and some should be mandated, but that alone is not the solution," Albert told Rotor & Wing. "The rules governing HEMS flights, are good rules but need to be followed and enforced." He said that up to 50 percent of crashes could likely be prevented by not using single engine, single pilot, VFR helicopters to transfer stabilized patients from hospital to hospital "during the hours of darkness."
The NTSB is acting on the HEMS issue following a significant increase in lives lost. During the past 11 months, the agency has investigated nine fatal EMS accidents that resulted in 35 fatalities or 3.2 people a month. In contrast, the 55 EMS accidents that occurred between January 2002 and January 2005 (41 helicopters and 14 airplanes) killed 54 people. That’s an average of 1.5 victims per month. The NTSB hopes to reduce the HEMS accident rate by improving HEMS operational structures and models, flight operations, aircraft safety equipment and training; all of which were addressed by participants at the hearing.