helicopter ambulance

EMS Helicopter Hearing Moves to Safety Equipment Today

The National Transportation Safety Board's Safety of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services Operations public hearing continues today in Washington, D.C., with a live webcast making the testimony and questions available to the world. NTSB announced last November that it would conduct this hearing in its board room and conference center, and the agency assembled panels of technical experts and witnesses representing all parts of the industry.

NTSB Board Member Robert L. Sumwalt chairs the Board of Inquiry, which consists of five members. The technical panel assisting the board consists mainly of experts from NTSB's Office of Aviation Safety. The FAA, Association of Air Medical Services, National EMS Pilots Association, Professional Helicopter Pilots Association/Office of Professional Employees International Union (AFL-CIO), Air Methods Corp., CareFlite, and the Helicopter Association International (HAI) are listed as parties to the hearing and may question the witnesses directly.

Sumwalt said in November that pressure to operate air ambulances safely and quickly in bad weather or at night can make these operations more dangerous than normal passenger transports. "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," he said then. "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 report in January 2006 that found 29 of 55 EMS aviation accidents (helicopters and airplane) from January 2002 through January 2005 could have been prevented by following measures recommended in the report, but the real impetus for this hearing was nine fatal EMS accidents with a total of 35 deaths in an 11-month period ending late last year.

Today's witnesses will address patient transport request processes, flight dispatch procedures, and safety equipment and flight recorders. Other witnesses who have testified or will testify include representatives of the University of Chicago Hospitals, HAI, LifeFlight of Maine, Boston MedFlight, the National Association of State EMS Officials, Mayo Clinic Medical Transport, CareFlite, Honeywell, Bell Helicopter, Eurocopter, the FAA, FlightSafety International, Air Evac EMS Inc., and others.

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