Air ambulances refer to medical helicopters and small fixed wing aircraft which are specially staffed and equipped to transport critically ill or injured passengers from either an accident scene or medical care facility to another hospital or critical care center where they can receive medical treatment. The crew usually consists of two pilots and a medical professional; either a flight physician paramedic or nurse. Air ambulances are frequently called to respond to accident scenes that are remote, or far from a trauma center. They are also summoned to fly in poor weather conditions, at night, and navigate challenging terrain. As a result, there has been a recent epidemic of medical helicopter crashes that have claimed the lives of many pilots, patients and medical personnel. Since air ambulances are not regulated separately from other general aviation flights, many questions have been raised about the safety of these flights, particularly given the challenging missions they fly and the destinations they serve. Lately, much focus is on the night vision equipment that so many flight crews lack, the hours that the crews fly, and missions they accept.
In one recent shocking report the National Transportation Safety Board determined that a medical helicopter crashed because the pilot was texting on his phone and lost control of the aircraft.
A recent USA Today investigation revealed that:
• Industry safeguards are so lax that pilots have repeatedly caused accidents by knowingly flying into bad weather, failing to check weather conditions or otherwise violating federal or company regulations. In at least 17 cases since 1995, pilots crashed after flouting fundamental flight rules.
• Despite at least nine crashes since 2003 in which a disoriented pilot flew into the ground, federal regulations exempt helicopters from some of the most basic safety standards and equipment required for commercial airlines, including devices that warn pilots when they get too close to the ground.
• Government inspections of air ambulance operations, a process critical to holding companies accountable for safety, are haphazard and inadequate. A draft report by a Federal Aviation Administration task force that studied the crashes last year concluded that inspections are “hit-or-miss” and that some accidents were “partly attributable” to poorly trained inspectors. In three fatal crashes last year, FAA inspectors had never visited helicopter bases to check pilot credentials, maintenance records and other documentation, steps crucial to ensuring safe flight.
Your trusted flight injury attorney at Bohrer & Lukeman, is are carefully monitoring the medical helicopter crisis that is putting critical care patients and flight crews all across the country at risk. Our airplane accident lawyers remain prepared to respond to the legal needs of those who suffer wrongful death or critical flight injuries due to the loss of air ambulances.
Medical Helicopter Crashes Traced to Lax Oversight