An Example of Texting as a Fatal Distraction to a HEMS Flight

Here’s an article reviewing an NTSB investigation in which a 34-yr-old EMS helicopter pilot had been texting prior to and during a flight that crashed and killed the pilot, two EMS nurses, and the patient being transferred between hospitals.

Here’s a link to a 4/9/13 abstract prepared by NTSB. This was a patient transfer of roughly 75-miles, from a hospital in Bethany, MO to another hospital in Liberty, MO. An interstate freeway (I-35) provides a direct route for a quick use of a ground ambulance. The NTSB report does not identify if there was a pressing need to use the more expensive (and more dangerous, plus more profitable to the HEMS company) helicopter ambulance instead of a ground ambulance. The pilot knew he was critically low on fuel and took off anyway, planning to land just minutes from the destination hospital to refuel. Fuel exhaustion occurred roughly one mile short of his intended fuel stop.

Here is a link to an earlier aiR POST related to a fatal HEMS crash six months ago:

Are EMS Helicopter Profits Causing Excessive Risk and Fatal Accidents?

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause(s) of this accident to be the pilot’s failure to confirm that the helicopter had adequate fuel on board to complete the mission before making the first departure, his improper decision to continue the mission and make a second departure after he became aware of a critically low fuel level, and his failure to successfully enter an autorotation when the engine lost power due to fuel exhaustion.

Contributing to the accident were:

  1. the pilot’s distracted attention due to personal texting during safety-critical ground and flight operations,
  2. his degraded performance due to fatigue,
  3. the operator’s lack of a policy requiring that an operational control center specialist be notified of abnormal fuel situations, and
  4. the lack of practice representative of an actual engine failure at cruise airspeed in the pilot’s autorotation training in the accident make and model helicopter.