EMS Helo Crashes after Other Companies Decline Flight

 - February 5, 2019, 4:40 PM

A 1996 Bell 407 that crashed last week en route to a patient pick up in Ohio had been dispatched only after two other air ambulance companies rejected the flight as being below their established weather minimums. The Survival Flight helicopter had been dispatched from Grove City to pick up a patient in Pomeroy. All three crewmembers died January 29 when the helicopter crashed through trees and disintegrated at 6:55 a.m., shortly before local sunrise, on state forest land near McArthur, 34 miles from its destination. Blowing snow and gusty winds were reported in the area of the crash site at the time of the accident. Pilot Jennifer Topper, 34, held a second-class medical, a helicopter instrument rating, and had received her commercial certificate in November 2018, according to FAA records. 

The flight had been rejected by two other air ambulance programs: MedFlight operated by Metro Aviation, and HealthNet Aeromedical, operated by Air Methods. MedFlight issued a statement saying it had rejected the flight based on the fact that Metro’s Operational Control Center “determined that the weather conditions at the time of the request were below our program’s weather minimums.” HealthNet issued a similar statement, saying that its Air Methods pilot declined to complete the flight.

Survival Flight said the flight met all relevant FAA regulations. However, after the crash various media outlets received from tipsters what appeared to be official Survival Flight marketing materials directed at local hospitals. One point stressed on the flier: “Our weather minimums are different, if other companies turn down the flight for weather—CALL  US.” 

Survival Flight has bases in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma and operates a mixed fleet of Bell and Sikorsky helicopters and Pilatus PC-12 turboprop singles. In 2016, another Survival Flight Bell 407 crashed and was substantially damaged while on approach to a hospital heliport in Lawton, Oklahoma, in night visual meteorological conditions during a Part 135 repositioning flight. The three-person crew was injured.