NTSB Reports Medical Helicopter in September Crash Missing Safety Features


The National Transportation Safety Board reports that a medical helicopter that crashed in South Carolina last month lacked safety features that had been recommended by federal experts. The crash killed three crew members as the helicopter was attempting to land at an airport it had been diverted to during a storm.

While the crash is still under investigation, the NTSB has said the helicopter was not equipped with night vision equipment, an autopilot system, or a system to warn the pilot it was flying too close to the ground or other obstacles. The NTSB has recommended these features be placed in medical helicopters in the past, and had again called for them one day before the accident.

The airport the helicopter was attempting to land at was small, unattended, and whose weather system had been out for three weeks due to a lightning strike.

The medical helicopter industry is a $2.5 billion a year business. Private companies may have scores of aircraft spread over many states. The company this helicopter belonged to is based in Texas, has 100 aircraft and operates in 18 states, including South Carolina.

The Washington Post reported in August that helicopters are permitted to operate with a lack of safety features expected on commercial aircraft, but that medical helicopter operations have become one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. There were 28 deaths, both crew and patients, in 2008. This was the first medical helicopter accident this year.