Hospital Wing Helicopter Crashes Killing All Onboard <

 

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Hospital Wing Helicopter Crashes Killing All Onboard

By Bill Goldston
 
 

March 26, 2010 - On Thursday at about 6 AM, a Hospital Wing helicopter with a three man crew crashed about 5 miles east of Brownsville, Tennessee. The crew had picked up a patient at Decada County General Hospital in Parsons and then dropped the patient off at at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital in Jackson, Tennessee. The helicopter departed just after 5 AM  and was returning back to their home base in Brownsville, Tennessee.

All three emergency medical services (EMS) crew members onboard the single engine Eurocopter AS350 helicopter were killed, there were no patients onboard at the time of the crash. It was reported that the weather at the time of the crash included thunderstorms, lightning and heavy rain showers.

The single pilot has been identified as 58 years old Doug Phillips. There were two flight nurses onboard, Cindy Parker, 48 years old and Misty Brogdon, 36 years old.

Hospital wing "The Wing" is a non-profit air medical transport, that provides inter-hospital transfers as well as emergency scene calls within 150 mile radius of Memphis that includes West Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, and Kentucky. The company was founded in 1985. The company owns and operates 5 helicopters that are equipped to transport critically ill and injured patients. Hospital wing has three helicopters that are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week and one helicopter is available for PediFlite. Hospital Wing transports an average of 150 patients per month with 60% of these being trauma related and scene flights account for approximately 35% of there operations.

Back in February 2010 the NTSB proposed several safety recommendations for EMS flights due to the number of accidents that have taken place. The NTSB recommended sticker regulations all EMS flights, develop and implement flight risk evaluation programs for EMS operators, require formalized dispatch and flight-following procedures including up-to-date weather information and to install terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS) on aircraft used for EMS operations.

EMS aviation operations (conducted with either helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft) provide an important service to the public by transporting seriously ill patients or donor organs to emergency care facilities.  The pressure to quickly conduct these operations in various environmental conditions (for example, in inclement weather, at night, and at unfamiliar landing sites for helicopter operations) continues to result in an increasing number of accidents.

 

Although the NTSB issued recommendations in 2006 to improve EMS helicopter operations safety, 11 fatal helicopter EMS (HEMS) accidents occurred between December 2007 and February 2010, killing 41 people.                                           

•        December 3, 2007: Whittier, Alaska – BK117C1          

•        December 30, 2007: Cherokee, Alabama – Bell 206L-3

•        February 5, 2008: South Padre Island, Texas – AS350B2

•        May 10, 2008: La Crosse, Wisconsin – EC135T2+

•        June 8, 2008: Huntsville, Texas – Bell 407

•        June 29, 2008: Flagstaff, Arizona – Bell 407s (2)

•        August 31, 2008: Greensburg, Indiana – Bell 206L-1

•        September 27, 2008: District Heights, Maryland – AS365N1

•        October 15, 2008: Aurora, Illinois – Bell 222

•        September 25, 2009: Georgetown, South Carolina – AS350

•        November 14, 2009: Doyle, California – AS350BA 

The NTSB is concerned that these types of accidents will continue to occur if a concerted effort is not made to improve the safety of emergency medical flights. Specifically, the following actions would help to improve the safety of EMS flight operations:  (1) conduct of all flights with medical personnel on board in accordance with stricter commuter aircraft regulations,  (2) implementation of a flight risk evaluation program for EMS operators, (3) establishment of formalized dispatch and flight-following procedures including up-to-date weather regulations, and (4) installation of terrain awareness and warning systems on aircraft used for EMS operations. 

In August 2004, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) convened a Helicopter Air Ambulance Accident Task Force to make recommendations to reduce HEMS accidents; however, in spite of numerous actions to address this issue through notices and guidance, little progress has been made by the FAA to improve the safety of EMS operations. 

In 2005, the FAA issued the following three notices addressing HEMS safety; however, all three of the following notices expired after 1 year: 

In June 2006, at the FAA’s request, RTCA, Inc. (formerly the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics), established a special committee to develop Helicopter TAWS (HTAWS) standards; minimum performance standards were completed in 2008, and in December 2008, the FAA issued Technical Standards Order (TSO) C-194 to standardize the manufacture of HTAWS within the industry. 

In January 2009, FAA principal operations inspectors conducted a survey of the 74 HEMS operators to determine how many planned to equip their fleets with TSO-approved HTAWS.  That survey revealed that 41 percent were planning to equip their fleets with HTAWS. 

In May 2008, the FAA incorporated the contents of Notice N8000.301 into Order 8900.1, encouraging the use of risk assessment models.  In addition, the FAA published Advisory Circular (AC) 120-96 regarding operations control centers (OCC) for HEMS, providing a list of tasks that should be completed by OCCs; however, Safety Recommendation A-06-14 asks the FAA to incorporate a requirement for an OCC into HEMS regulations.  The January 12, 2009, survey of all 74 HEMS operators previously included how many had adopted the best practices specified in AC 120-96.  It was determined that 94 percent had adopted decision-making skills and risk assessment programs, and 89 percent had integrated an OCC. 

In November 2008, the FAA published revised Operation Specification (OpSpec) A021, to specify that, if a flight, or sequence of flights, includes a Part 135 segment, then all visual flight rule (VFR) segments of the flight must be conducted within the weather minimums and minimum safe cruise altitude determined in pre-flight planning. Specifically, pilots must identify a minimum safe cruise altitude during pre-flight planning by identifying and documenting obstructions and terrain along the planned flight path and must also determine the minimum required ceiling and visibility to conduct the flight. As of February 2009, all HEMS operators have complied with this OpSec. 

The NTSB concluded in its 2006 report that a requirement for all EMS operators to comply with 14 CFR Part 135 OpSpecs during the conduct of all flights with medical personnel on board, would enhance the safety of EMS operations. The FAA’s OpSpecs revision requires all VFR segments of EMS flights that include a part 135 segment to adhere to increased weather minimums. This revision was a positive step; however, in order to fully satisfy Safety Recommendation A-06-12, the FAA must still require the Part 135 flight and duty time limitations for EMS flights. 

In February 2009, the NTSB held a 4-day public hearing to learn more about helicopter EMS operations. The NTSB invited expert witnesses including pilots, medical personnel, managers, and representatives from the FAA from the EMS community. Most of the witnesses participated on small panels, addressing particular safety issues, and several organizations had an opportunity to question the witnesses directly. Some of the issues discussed during the hearing included operational structure and models, flight operations, aircraft safety equipment, training, and oversight. 

In April 2009, the FAA started a formal rulemaking project to address many of the HEMS initiatives and best practices found in advisory circulars, orders, and notices issued over the last several years, as well as the November 2008 revisions to HEMS operating specifications. In November 2009, the FAA stated that its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) will also address a requirement for HEMS operators to equip their fleets with, and use, HTAWS; however, it has been almost a year since the FAA started the rulemaking project, and an NPRM has not yet been published.  

The NTSB’s recommendations concerning EMS flights were issued on February 7, 2006. In the 4 years since then, the FAA developed voluntary guidance that has not been adopted by all EMS operators; accordingly, the NTSB is concerned that until the FAA institutes the recommended requirements, some EMS operators will continue to operate in an unsafe manner, which could lead to further accidents. 

Actions Remaining: Require all EMS operators to comply with 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 flight and duty time operations specifications during the conduct of all flights with medical personnel on board. 

Require all EMS operators to develop and implement flight risk evaluation programs that include training all employees involved in the operation, procedures that support the systematic evaluation of flight risks, and consultation with others trained in EMS flight operations if the risks reach a predefined level. 

Require EMS operators to use formalized dispatch and flight-following procedures that include up-to-date weather information and assistance in flight risk assessment decisions. 

Require EMS operators to install terrain awareness and warning systems on their aircraft and to provide adequate training to ensure that flight crews are capable of using the systems to safely conduct EMS operations.
 
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