Today the National Transportation Safety Board opened a four-day public hearing on the safety of helicopter emergency medical services operations. The NTSB is webcasting the hearing.
Through Friday, the NTSB will hear from technical experts about helicopter EMS operations, with the goal of better evaluating the factors that lead to accidents. Most witnesses will participate as part of small panels addressing particular safety issues.
The witnesses will include including pilots, medical personnel, managers and Federal Aviation Administration officials who provide oversight. The board has posted an entire agenda and documents related to the proceedings.
In January 2006, the board issued a special investigation report on EMS operations. Many of the 55 EMS-related aviation accidents (fatal and non-fatal) that occurred between January 2002 and January 2005 could have been prevented with simple corrective actions, including oversight, flight risk evaluations, improved dispatch procedures, and the incorporation of available technologies, according to the NTSB.
The board issued four safety recommendations to the FAA but have not yet been fully implemented. Over the past 12 months, the board has investigated an additional nine fatal EMS accidents, which killed 35 people. The agency added helicopter EMS safety to its Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.
The Baltimore Sun reported last year about air ambulance problems in Maryland and found that nationwide since 2003, many of the 26 fatal air ambulance crashes didn’t involve life or death missions.
A search for air ambulance crashes in the online version of the NTSB database is tricky. The search form doesn’t include the category, but typing in the box titled “Enter your word string below” will return records on the search terms “%air ambulance%” . The “%” is the wildcard symbol in the NTSB database. The search can also be limited by dates, state and other elements. Caution: Wildcard searches are notorious for picking up false matches. Check your results carefully.