On Tuesday, the NTSB found that a helicopter air ambulance operator’s “inadequate management of safety” was the probable cause of the fatal crash of a Bell 407 in Zaleski, Ohio, on Jan. 29, 2019. The Survival Flight helicopter crashed while on a VFR flight in an area of deteriorating weather en route to a patient pickup, killing all three crew aboard. Pilot Jennifer Topper was attempting to make a 180-degree turn in an area of localized snow showers when the aircraft crashed in a heavily wooded area.
The NTSB found that Survival Flight’s routine failure to use preflight risk assessment had become “normalized” and that employees said management pressured them to accept flights rejected by other helicopter air ambulance services due to weather. The NTSB again called for mandated safety management systems (SMS) for all Part 135 operators and faulted the FAA for “inadequate oversight” of Survival Flight’s risk-management program.
NTSB Investigators said the safety risks that existed at Survival Flight would likely have been identified and mitigated by a properly-run SMS, which could have prevented this crash. “We keep asking that safety management systems be required of Part 135 operators because we keep seeing crashes the systems are designed to prevent,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “This has to change, and it is past time for the FAA to implement our recommendation.”