Jonesboro, Arkansas


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Frank Bailey
Frank Bailey
Contributor •

Medical Helicopters, Are They Safe?

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Medical helicopters can save lives and they can also take lives. Sixteen people have died in crashes this year alone. There have been a total of seven crashes. Thirteen of these deaths occurred in May and June.

We have about 750 medical helicopters nationwide. That amount is double what we had ten years ago.

The National Transportation Safety Board began to investigate the industry after a rash of accidents in 2004 and 2005. It found operators failed to develop comprehensive flight risk programs; operators did not have good weather information; and there was a lack of equipment to alert operators of dangerous terrain.

The F.A.A. is putting new weather requirements for flights and stricter rules for pilot instrument competency in place, but too late to save the lives taken this year.

Can companies eager to profit from flights be sending helicopters to pick up patients who could have been transported safer by ground ambulance? Is this another case of profit over safety?

The crash on Sunday involved two Bell 407 models. Two days earlier a medical helicopter crashed just outside Prescott, Arizona. And in early June four people were killed when a helicopter crashed near Huntsville, Texas.

There have also been crashes near La Crosse, Wisconsin and South Padre Island in Texas.

I rode on lots of helicopters in Viet Nam when I was young. I for one am not going to press my luck and will ask for a ground ambulance if the need arises.