Safety Hearings on Emergency Medical Transportation in Session


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began hearings yesterday on "Safety of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) Operations." The hearings are scheduled for four days. They were scheduled due to the increasing number of fatal crashes over the last few years.

The federal investigators were told by experts in yesterdays hearings that air-ambulance helicopters have the worst fatal crash record in aviation. The rate of fatalities per 100,000 air-ambulance employees over the past 10 years exceeds other dangerous professions such as logging or deep-sea fishing.

Relatively few patients have died. Only 34 out of about 4.3 million transported since 1972. Most have been crew members who always outnumber the patient on flights.

Since 1972, 264 people have died in air-ambulance crashes. Nine fatal crashes since December 2007 have killed 35 people. That's the highest death toll in the industry's history.


A typical emergency run involves three trips: one to pick up the patient; another to transport the victim; and a third to return to the helicopter base after the patient is dropped off.

The FAA spokesman Les Dorr said "The FAA has pushed the industry to adopt stricter safety standards but has emphasized voluntary change because it can be accomplished faster than writing new regulations."

The accident statistics for the USA stand in stark contrast to Canada, which has not had a fatality since 1977. Unlike most companies in the United States, Canada requires two pilots on each helicopter, and flights are conducted under more rigorous standards for weather, said Sylvain S├ęguin, a vice president of Canadian Helicopters.

The NTSB hearing is trying to pinpoint what could be driving the recent increase in fatal crashes.

You can listen to the recorded hearings at the NTSB website.

Medical helicopter crash deaths on record pace (USA Today)