A dramatic national conversation erupted following the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board finding that smartphone texting was a contributing factor in the crash of a fatal medical-helicopter flight in 2011.
The discussion has concentrated on everything from connecting the event to the dangers of texting while driving to calls for a ban on texting by pilots in air medical operations.
Absent from the discussion, however, is a larger issue that's well-recognized by helicopter industry safety organizations, and what should be of great concern for hospital administration and other organizations that contract emergency helicopter services. The issue has to do with the egregiously high incidence of fatal and critical helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) crashes, and resulting in personal injuries.
In comparison to nearly every other type of commercial aviation, there is an inordinate rate of accidents within medical helicopter aviation, with the 2010 NTSB data proof in point.
The NTSB segregates aviation operations into hundreds of categories, the largest being all U.S. major domestic air carrier flights. In 2010, NTSB reported only 14 accidents among major air carrier aviation, none of which were fatal. By contrast, in 2010 there were 13 HEMS accidents, including seven fatal crashes.