October 4, 2014: A Fatal HEMS accident in Wichita Falls

20141004.. crash fire pic, Wichita FallsShortly before 2:00AM local time, an emergency ambulance helicopter crashed in Wichita Falls, TX, killing the patient and injuring the pilot and both flight nurses.

20141004.. United Regional Health, helipad and reported accident siteNews reports indicate that the Bell 206 helicopter, based in Duncan, OK, had been dispatched to move a 26-yr-old man who had been shot in the Waurika, OK area. Google maps indicates a ground ambulance would have been a fairly direct drive, 38-miles in just forty minutes, to get to the hospital in Wichita Falls.

Here is a clip from an online satellite view. The crash location (red circle) is roughly one block from the helipad (smaller orange circle) at United Regional Health Care System.

Weather appears to have not been a factor. The METAR sequence at [KSPS] shows clear skies, calm winds, good visibility, termperature 51.

The Air Evac Lifeteam website describes the company as the largest independently owned and operated air ambulance company in the U.S. Based in O’Fallon, MO, it serves 15 states with more than 110 helicopters, operating primarily out of rural bases in the Midwest and South.

The company’s recent accident history includes (click on dates to view NTSB report):

Note that nearly all of this company’s fatal accidents have occurred in the middle of the night, in darkness. The only fatal accident in the daytime was due to a mechanical failure (a defective rotor disintegrated, in a mid-day flight). Fatigue may be an issue, too; the pilots are routinely assigned 12-hour shifts.

Why fly at these dangerous hours? Most likely, for the ‘golden trout’ profits. A 2009 news posting at EMSflightCrew.com had this quote:

…A typical HEMS flight can generate a payment of $20,000 or more. To garner these payments, operators have an implicitly built-in incentive to fly — despite such proven deadly factors as marginal weather at night. One HEMS pilot described every patient as a golden trout. “We need to go get these trout,” he said, because of the generous Medicare reimbursement….

This needs to change, and we depend on FAA to make this change happen.

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