NTSB Investigates Medical Helicopter Crashes In Light Of Deadly Maryland Accident

The Washington Post reports that the National Transportation Safety Board will begin an investigation of the spike in medical helicopter/ airlifting fatalities across the nation last year. The Washington, DC, hearing will last four days and focus on the 29 deaths in 13 different emergency helicopter crashes in 2008. A medic helicopter crash in Maryland that killed four people will be highlighted during the questioning and investigation.

In September of 2008, Maryland Trooper 2 crashed while carrying two teens injured in a car wreck. Only one emergency worker survived the crash – Jordan Wells. He will be attending the four-day talks and voicing his opinion during the event.

The questioning will include interviews with 40 witnesses and experts, ranging from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officers, helicopter pilots, private medical helicopter operators, and others in the industry.

“The recent accident record is alarming, and it is unacceptable,” said NTSB board member Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the hearing.

The board believes the crashes may be connected to the fact that federal regulations are comparatively lax for medical helicopters as opposed to the rules that commercial planes and helicopters must follow.

One day of questioning will focus on Maryland’s approach to medical airlifting, as it uses a state-funded medical helicopter system that is run by the Maryland State Police, while many other states use private medical helicopter companies.

The largest concern was that the FAA had not tightened restrictions as recommended two years by the safety board – it remains, for instance, that there are different, inconsistent regulations depending on whether or not a patient is being transported. There are also no flight risk evaluation programs or other formalized procedures. There is also no requirements for terrain awareness systems or warning systems – two things that could save lives and prevent future helicopter crashes.

The NTSB put forth that almost half of the crashes that have taken place since January of 2005 could have been prevented had the FAA established the above safety regulations.

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