Medical helicopters provide life-saving assistance to those who need urgent care but are far away from the nearest emergency room. However, they are in more accidents than other aviation types.
There are various factors involved in Emergency Medical Service helicopter crashes, and understanding these may help to reduce future risk of crashes.
Medical helicopter facts and stats
According to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, EMS helicopters have two times the number of fatal crashes per 100,000 flight hours compared to other helicopters, private planes and commercial jets. These helicopters are the most common way to transport medical patients by air, and there is an average of 400,000 patients that use them every year.
EMS helicopters have an obvious advantage over ground emergency medical services vehicles, but the terrain that they have to navigate can make it tricky to land and take off safely. Flying at night and fires that occur after a crash are major contributors to fatalities.
Factors involved in crashes
Along with night flying, another factor in accidents is that there is only one pilot. This means that there is not another person to help keep an eye out for hazards. The terrain and adverse weather that pilots have to maneuver also increase the risk.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, human factors are responsible for 94% of fatal crashes. These include the pilot’s judgment, flight preparation, pilot’s orientation and pilot experience.
Another factor is the type of medical certificate required for the pilot. For EMS helicopters, pilots only need a second-class certificate, while pilots of other helicopters need a first-class certificate. Busy medical helicopter programs have a lower incidence of accidents than programs that are less active.
Some safety implementations, such as night-vision goggles, Terrain-Awareness Warning Systems and improvements in weather regulating, have decreased the number of accidents, but there are still improvements that would help, such as fire resistant fuel systems.