Air Methods appeals NTSB findings in 2008 midair

 - July 28, 2009, 6:17 AM

Air Methods has petitioned the NTSB to revise its probable cause findings related to the fatal midair collision between an Air Methods Bell 407 and a Classic Helicopters Bell 407 on approach to Arizona’s Flagstaff Medical Center on June 29, 2008. The NTSB found the probable cause of the accident to be “both helicopter pilots’ failure to see and avoid the other helicopter on approach to the helipad. Contributing to the accident were the failure of N407GA’s (Air Methods) pilot to follow arrival and noise-abatement guidelines and the failure of N407MJ’s (Classic Helicopters) pilot to follow communications guidelines.”

In a prepared statement, Air Methods asked the NTSB for “reconsideration and deletion of the Board’s finding that a contributing cause in the accident was ‘the failure of Air Methods’ pilot to follow arrival and noise-abatement guidelines’; the addition, as a contributing cause, of the presence of prescription pain-killing medication in the Classic pilot’s blood that could influence decisions or performance; and the addition, as a contributing cause, of the failure of the Classic communications center to communicate pertinent information to the Classic aircraft regarding the fact that Air Methods’ aircraft was inbound to Flagstaff Medical Center with the same estimated time of arrival as the Classic aircraft.”

Toxicology exams revealed the metabolized presence of the prescription pain- killer meperidine (Demoral) in the blood of the Classic pilot, Tom Caldwell, 55. Caldwell had sustained a rib injury when he confronted a home invader on June 23, 2008. He had been released back to work June 25. The drug has a half-life of 15 to 20 hours and can cause anxiety and central nervous system toxicity.

Air Methods CEO Aaron Todd said, “We are deeply troubled by what we consider to be critical inaccuracies in the NTSB current probable cause report and inconsistencies between the findings in this case versus previous cases” cited by the company in its petition. Todd told AIN that the NTSB mischaracterized flight path and noise-abatement information related to the Air Methods aircraft.