NTSB determines causes for four EMS crashes
Dec. 3, 2007–Eurocopter BK 117C1 operated by Evergreen Alaska Helicopters crashes into the ocean on a VFR flight in IMC near Whittier, Alaska, killing all four aboard.
One week before the crash, an EMT complained to hospital management that the program’s pilots were overworked and that, “losing pilots to burn out is the best-case scenario.”
A pilot flying in the area an hour before the crash reported snow squalls down to the water and occasional zero visibility.
The NTSB found that the accident’s probable cause was “The pilot’s decision to continue VFR flight into night instrument meteorological conditions.” Contributing factors included failure to adhere to an FAA-approved and -mandated risk management program, lack of FAA oversight of compliance with the risk management program, the pilot’s lack of experience in Alaska night winter operations, as well as the lack of an EMS dispatch and flight-following system.
Dec. 30, 2007–Air Evac Bell 206L-3 crashes in night VMC while searching for a lost hunter near Cherokee, Ala.; three occupants killed.
Data from the aircraft’s SkyTrac system showed it was flying too low and too slow, at times down to 100 feet agl and 18 knots. Air Evac permits a minimum 500 agl altitude at night.
The NTSB found that the accident’s probable cause was “the pilot’s failure to maintain control of the helicopter during an out-of-ground-effect hover.” A contributing factor was a loss of tail rotor effectiveness.
Feb. 5, 2008–Valley Air Care AS 350B2 crashes into the water moments after aborting a landing on a night flight to pick up a patient on South Padre Island, Texas; three occupants killed.
One minute after the pilot reported the LZ was in sight, the flight nurse radioed to dispatch, “We’re in clouds again. We’re gonna abort.” En route weather was reported as VFR, but witnesses on site reported it as “misty with clouds and quite windy.” The helicopter crashed shortly after making a 180-degree turn away from the LZ.
The NTSB concluded the accident’s probable cause was the pilot’s failure to maintain control. Contributors included inadvertent flight into IMC and lack of recent instrument flying experience.
June 8, 2008–PHI Bell 407 operating as Med 12 crashes into the Sam Houston National Forest near Huntsville, Texas, en-route to Houston; four occupants killed.
Ninety minutes before the crash, Herman Memorial LifeFlight aborted this patient pickup when it encountered 700-foot ceilings en route that were “pretty sudden and dramatic.”
Med 12 accepted the re-assignment. The helicopter was not IFR-equipped and the ATP rated pilot was nervous about the weather, based on a transcript of three conversations he had with the Emergency Operations Center. He crashed six miles after takeoff from Huntsville in an area of 50-foot-tall trees.
The NTSB probable cause was “The pilot’s failure to identify and arrest the helicopter’s descent, which resulted in its impact with terrain.” Contributing factors were inadvertent flight into IMC and the limited outside visual references available.