Image of a medical helicopter.

NTSB to Hold Three-Day Public Hearing on Helicopter EMS Operations

The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a public hearing on the safety of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) operations. The three-day hearing will begin on February 3, 2009, at the NTSB's Board Room and Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W., Washington, D.C.

Helicopter EMS operations provide an important service to the public by transporting seriously ill patients or donor organs to emergency care facilities. The pressure to safely and quickly conduct these operations in various environmental conditions (for example, inclement weather, at night and unfamiliar landing sites for helicopter operations) has the potential to make HEMS operations more at risk than normal passenger carrying operations.

"We have seen an alarming rise in the numbers of EMS accidents and the Safety Board believes some of these accidents could have been prevented if our recommendations were implemented," said Member Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the hearing. "This hearing will be extremely important because it can provide an opportunity to learn more about the industry so that possibly we can make further recommendations that can prevent these accidents and save lives."

NTSB issued a "Special Investigation Report" on EMS Operations in January 2006. The report involved the analysis of all EMS-related aviation accidents that occurred from January 2002 through January 2005. There were a total of 55 accidents that occurred during this three-year window--41 helicopters and 14 airplanes. These accidents killed 54 people, and seriously injured 19. Analysis of the accidents indicated that 29 of 55 accidents could have been prevented with corrective actions identified in the report.

However, over the past 11 months NTSB has investigated nine fatal EMS Accidents with a total of 35 fatalities. In 2008 alone there have been seven fatal accidents with 28 fatalities. This is a drastic increase in accidents since the report and therefore has prompted NTSB to examine this issue in greater detail by holding this hearing. There will be witnesses from all EMS communities including pilots, medical personnel, managers, and FAA. The issues that will be discussed during the hearing include:

  • Operational Structure and Models
  • Flight Operations
  • Aircraft Safety Equipment
  • Training
  • Oversight

The hearing will be webcast. An agenda and webcast details will be posted on www.ntsb.gov.

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