Public Service

Rotorcraft Report: Helicopter Plan Helps Los Angeles Respond To Fatal Train Wreck

By Staff Writer | October 1, 2008
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A plan for using helicopters to distribute seriously injured victims of mass disasters in the Los Angeles area among the region’s hospitals helped emergency responders efficiently treat scores hurt in a commuter rail crash last month.

L.A. officials have called the Sept. 12 crash of a Metrolink commuter train into a Union Pacific freight train the worst mass-casualty incident in the region since the 1994 Northridge earthquake. That natural disaster killed 57 people and left nearly 140 hospitalized. The train crash killed 25 people and sent 86 passengers on the commuter train to the hospital, half of them in critical condition.


The existing regional patient-distribution plan was refined based on lessons learned in the wake of a Metrolink crash in 2005 that killed 11 and hospitalized 140, as well as the 2003 crash of a car into a farmers’ market in Santa Monica that killed 10. Its goal is to spread mass-casualty victims among numerous medical facilities rather than overwhelming one or two hospitals nearest the scene.

Implementing it, incident commanders had victims airlifted from the crash site in Chatsworth to distant emergency rooms, such as that at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center over the Santa Monica Mountains in Westwood, West Hollywood’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and County-USC Medical Center in Boyle Heights.

The facility nearest the scene, Providence Holy Cross Medical Center about 8 mi away in Mission Hills, treated 14 crash victims, five of whom were critically injured. The Reagan Center treated eight, five of whom needed immediate surgery. Cedars-Sinai treated seven, two of whom needed surgery right away, while the facility in Boyle Heights treated five, all of whom suffered major trauma.

Helicopters responding to the incident including all six of the Los Angeles Fire Dept’s aircraft, five from the L.A. County Fire Dept and the L.A. Sheriff’s Dept’s Sikorsky H-3.

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