Bridget Bese/AP
An Air Evac helicopter responds to an
accident in a 2007 file photo.

Medical Helicopter Crash in Indiana Adds to Rising Annual Total

September 02, 2008 04:58 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
A medical helicopter crash in Indiana adds to a growing list of emergency transport accidents around the country.

Medical Aircraft Crashes

On Aug. 31, 2008, an Air Evac medical transport helicopter crashed in Indiana, instantly killing the three crew members on board. This is the fifth accident involving an Air Evac helicopter in recent years.

The crew wasn’t on an ambulance run, but was traveling to a tractor pull event. It’s common practice, Air Evac told the Indianapolis Star, for its workers to attend community events.

FAA officials are still trying to determine the cause of the crash.

Medical aircraft accidents have been on an upward trend recently. In June 2008, two medical helicopters crashed into each other in Arizona, killing six people. After the incident, National Transportation Safety Board chairman Mark Rosenker told CBS News that these problems had reached a “disturbing” level.

In 2005, USA Today reported that “a deadly trend of pilot errors, industry carelessness and poor government oversight has driven the number of air ambulance crashes to record levels.” Some medical studies questioned whether the frequent use of medical helicopters over ambulances was necessary. Industry leaders said more lives were saved by faster helicopter travel than were lost in crashes.

As for the Arizona crash, it was the fist time in history that two medical aircraft had been involved in an accident together, according to USA Today. Rosenker noted that for 2008, the medical helicopter industry was on its way to a “record-breaking year” in terms of deaths.

Related Topic: Ambulance risks

Transporting patients in ambulances is not without its potential dangers, either. The Associated Press reports that a recent ambulance crash in Vermont highlighted two concerns common to many such accidents: risky driving and hazardous patient compartments. Dan Manz, head of emergency medical services at the Vermont Department of Health, said the practice of using a “lead foot” to save lives isn’t necessary. The patient compartment problem is a littler harder to address, however. Manz said, “There is heavy equipment in use that is very difficult to secure.”

In Australia, ambulance crews are experiencing such serious cases of fatigue that the Ambulance Employees Australia (AEA) union said the lives of paramedics and patients are at risk. Some workers put in between five and eight hours of overtime a week, and request from 13.5 to 16 sick leave days a year. Those numbers indicate that paramedics are overworked and in need of longer breaks between shifts, the AEA told The Australian. Some workers had admitted to falling asleep at the wheel, and to drawing up and nearly administering the wrong drugs to patients.

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