Posted 5 years 127 days ago ago by Randy Mains
On the 1st of January every year since 1980, exactly one-year after I began flying helicopter air ambulance from the rooftop helipad at Hermann Hospital in Houston, I created a folder on my computer entitled, EMS CRASHES. When a HEMS crash occurred that year I would add the details. I developed this practice each year because I could see very early-on in my helicopter air ambulance career how dangerous flying an air medical helicopter was.
Here’s the sad part: In 36 years I have NEVER had an empty folder at the end of a year. Does that shock you? It should. In fact I hope it enrages you. Sadly 2016 will be no different because on March 26th I woke up to the following headline:
COFFEE COUNTY, Ala. – The Coffee County Emergency Management Agency have identified the four people who were killed early Saturday morning when a Haynes Life Flight helicopter crashed. The victims are pilot, Chad Hammond; flight nurse, Stacey Cernadas; flight medic, Jason Snipes; and patient Zach Strickland, WTVY reported.
I posted the news item on my professional Crew Resource Management Facebook page. As the day progressed, I received lots of responses most with emoticons with little yellow faces shedding tears, many of the sentiments saying the same thing, ‘Another one?”
I received a message from a former Canadian Air Force helicopter pilot with whom I’d flown at Abu Dhabi Aviation, Ian Tisdale. He told me he was extremely frustrated and angry and wrote to say:
“Randy: Chad, the pilot, was on my AB 139 course in Lafayette, Louisiana. He was an outstanding human being, married with a beautiful young daughter whom I’d met. It rips me apart that he is not with us anymore. I hope that you can continue your fight with the FAA to stop the insanity of single pilot IFR EMS operators who compete to pick-up patients for the sake of revenue. The Canadian model of 2 pilot, twin-engine helicopters is the way to go for everyone's health and safety. I'm mad as Hell that Chad is no longer with us, he was a smart guy with a bright future.”
Here’s the thing…since I began flying helicopter air ambulance in January 1979, there have been the equivalent of three, fully loaded, Boeing 777s packed with air medical crew and nearly 40 patients involved in HEMS crashes. Three crashing is bad enough but imagine if a third of those had died, leaving over 700 crash survivors who must live the rest of their days with the emotional and physical injuries.
Dr. Ira Blumen, Medical Director at the University of Chicago, tracks HEMS statistics each year and presents his findings at the annual Air Medical Transport Conference. His stats show an average of 13 crashes occur each year.
Helicopter air medical crashes are like the Chinese water torture in aviation, drip drip, drip, crash, crash, crash each one not making a big ‘splash’ in the national headlines like major air disasters do but the loss of life is steady and insidious.
You can bet your flight wings that if HEMS crashes had the same impact on the general public as a national airline disaster, the FAA, NTSB indeed Congress would scramble to enact rules and regulations to make HEMS in America the safest it can be.
Australia announced two years ago they were going to adopt Part 121 airline standards to all HEMS programs, the highest standards in aviation. Why? It was explained this way at the Australian air medical transport conference in Melbourne that year:
“The patient doesn’t have a choice as to what level of risk they are willing to accept; therefore, we must offer them the highest level of safety that is humanly possible.”
Wow! Now wouldn’t that be a novel attitude to bring to America? I predict the accident rate would plummet if that were the case. Unfortunately, too late for those 334 souls who have lost their lives while waiting for our government to act to ensure their safety.
About Randy: Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a
CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long
career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM
instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at