Three air medical crew members heading out to pick up a patient for transport on Tuesday were killed when their Bell 407 air ambulance helicopter crashed in a rural area of Ohio. The Survival Flight Inc., crew included pilot Jennifer Topper, 34; nurse Bradley Haynes, 48; and nurse Rachel Cunningham, 33. The helicopter crashed in a heavily wooded area of Zaleski, near the Lake Hope State Park.
The crash occurred after the historic two-month government shutdown ended and both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are investigating the crash. During the shutdown, the agencies were unable to investigate numerous crashes because of the Administration’s refusal to fund the agencies.
“It is important to investigate air crashes, especially fatal ones, to provide answers and uncover deficiencies that can help prevent similar tragedies in the future,” said Mike Andrews a lawyer at the Beasley Allen Law Firm who focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation. “The tremendous impact of the recent government shutdown was highly visible across the aviation industry and it will take time for the industry to recover. Refusing to fund or diverting funds from the oversight of an industry with high risks to consumer safety at every interval is unwise and puts many more lives at risk.”
On Wednesday, federal investigators began documenting the site, wreckage and aircraft. They will review radar documentation as well as communications with air traffic control and investigate the pilot’s handling of the aircraft. Investigators will also consider if the weather played a role in the tragic crash. The National Weather Service confirmed that there were light snow showers in the area at the time of the crash, around 6:50 a.m. local time, along with winds of 15 mph from the west and gusts up to 21 mph.
Air transport is inherently more dangerous and more likely to be fatal than ground transport due to weather conditions and the types of environments they must navigate. Over the last decade (2009-2018), there were 75 air ambulance crashes, including 27 that were fatal. In 2018, there were four ambulance helicopter crashes and three deaths, and six crashes the following year resulting in seven deaths.
New federal rules released by the FAA in 2014 strengthened safety requirements for air ambulance operators including improving communication and training and adding more safety equipment to aircraft. While safety has improved, medical helicopters still crash two times more often than other air taxis.
The Athens News
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)