A medical helicopter heading to pick up a sick child made an unusual course change before it crashed and burned in a wooded area in West Tennessee, according to an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Two workers from Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis and the pilot died Oct. 22 when the helicopter rammed into the ground and caught fire while on the way to pick up the child in Bolivar, Tenn. The helicopter crashed in Somerville, Tenn., about 45 miles east of Memphis.
There's no indication the pilot of the three-bladed Eurocopter transmitted that he had a problem before the aircraft crashed, the NTSB investigator said. A preliminary report is expected this week, and a final report could take nine months to a year or more.
The helicopter was operated by Hospital Wing, which uses seven helicopters to take patients to hospitals within a 150-mile radius of Memphis. Another Hospital Wing helicopter crashed in West Tennessee in March 2010, when the pilot tried to outrun a storm. That crash killed the pilot and two nurses.
In 2008, the NTSB put emergency medical flights on its “most wanted improvements” list after the industry suffered a record 28 fatalities in seven crashes that year. There was only one death in 2011 and again in 2012, but 2013 has seen five fatal helicopter EMS crashes with 12 killed.