Cluster of aeromed accidents focus concerns on EMS safety

 - May 7, 2008, 5:45 AM

Three aeromedical helicopter accidents claimed three lives in just 12 days in August and September, representing a cluster of successively serious mishaps in what otherwise had been a fairly uneventful year in terms of EMS safety.

In the first accident, an MBB BK 117A4 operated by Rocky Mountain Helicopter experienced an engine fire on August 26 while transporting a patient near Bradentown, Fla. Flying at a cruise altitude of 1,000 ft, speed of 130 kt and a reported 60-percent engine torque, the pilot reported a loud bang from the right side of the helo. The number-two fire warning light went on and the helicopter began to yaw. The pilot managed to make a successful autorotation onto a nearby freeway. Neither the pilot nor three crewmembers were injured.

Five days later, a Sikorsky S-76A+ operated for Miami Children’s Hospital by Air Methods took off with pilot, copilot and two medical crewmembers on a positioning flight just after noon when it struck an adjacent building with its main rotor. The pilot later reported that during takeoff the S-76A+’s downwash had torn loose a piece of nearby awning. That distraction caused the pilot to veer to avoid the awning and strike the adjacent building. Of the four crew, the pilot was seriously injured, with the copilot and flight crew less so.

In the early morning hours of September 7, a Bell 222UT operated by Air Methods subsidiary Mercy Air was destroyed and its crew of three killed when it crashed near Interstate Highway 15 about six miles south of the California/Nevada state line near Baker, Calif. Killed in the crash, Mercy Air’s first, were pilot Marshall Butler, flight nurse Ana Coburn and paramedic Kalaya Jarbsunthie. The 222UT was maneuvering for touchdown at a highway accident site before the crash. The team and their helicopter were based at Mercy Air’s Pahrump, Nev. location just west of Las Vegas.