What Is With All These Medical Helicopter Crashes?

Unfortunately, it seems like every other week I hear a news story about a medical helicopter crashing or some other tragic event involving a medical helicopter. As of this writing, the latest incident involved a medical helicopter that crashed in...


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A review by The Baltimore Sun of crash records and other documents on the 26 fatal medevac crashes in the U.S. since 2003 shows that many did not involve urgent, minutes-from-death missions. At least eight involved patients who waited longer for a helicopter than a ground ambulance might have needed to drive them to a hospital. And at least six flights were for patients who were discharged soon after helicopters dropped them off at a hospital or who survived lengthy ambulance rides after the helicopters sent for them went down. Half of the 26 fatal medevac accidents occurred during missions to transfer patients between hospitals - one for a distance of 10 miles - and many of the transferred patients waited hours from the time a helicopter was called until it arrived and was ready to take off again, records show.

Why have we seen such an increase in these flights? One reason may be financial. Air-ambulance companies receive roughly $7,500 per flight from insurance companies or Medicare.

There is no doubt that medical helicopters have saved many lives, starting from when they started evacuating the wounded off the battlefields of Korea in the 1950s up to the present day. But the number of accidents is a definite indication that something is broken and needs to be fixed. Hopefully, those fixes will come soon.

GARY LUDWIG, MS, EMT-P, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis, TN, Fire Department. He has 30 years of fire-rescue service experience. Ludwig is chairman of the EMS Section for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), has a master's degree in business and management, and is a licensed paramedic. He is a frequent speaker at EMS and fire conferences nationally and internationally, and can be reached through his website at www.garyludwig.com.