Preliminary Report: Blowing dust obscures EMS pilot's vision

 - September 14, 2006, 5:24 AM

MBB BK 117, Ponce de Leon, Fla., June 22, 2006–Landing off airport, about 10 miles north of Ponce de Leon, the skid-equipped BK 117 hit trees and was substantially damaged. It was night and the EMS helicopter was en route with two paramedics to a rural area to meet an ambulance and fireman with a maternity patient.

The landing area, which was stored in the helicopter’s GPS, was prearranged and had been inspected for obstructions and overall condition. The fireman called and asked that the pilot land at a different landing site, a sod-covered open field. The pilot found it in the GPS, and when he arrived he used a searchlight to check for obstructions and the ground.

As he went into a hover, the helicopter’s main rotor downwash stirred up a substantial amount of dry dirt and dust, reducing visibility. (Later investigation revealed that the sod had recently been removed from the field.) While the pilot was temporarily blinded, the main rotor hit a large tree and the helicopter started spinning. Then the tail boom hit the tree and the helicopter crashed.

The helicopter was operated by CJ Systems Aviation Group of West Mifflin, Pa., and contracted by Doctor’s Memorial Hospital in Bonifay, Fla. One paramedic was injured.