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Three Killed in Ohio Medical Transport Helicopter Crash

Posted By Doan Law Firm || 5-Feb-2019

One of the most significant advances in the prehospital care of accident victims has been the use of medical transportation helicopters to provide both "on scene" medical care and the rapid transportation of accident victims to medical centers that have the resources necessary to care for patients with multiple injuries. In addition to this role, medical helicopters are frequently called upon to transport patients from smaller, rural, hospitals to medical centers that are frequently over 100 miles away. Unfortunately, these lifesaving missions sometimes end in tragedy.

The aviation accident injury lawyers at The Doan Law Firm have been actively following a recent medical transportation helicopter accident as well as a review of the potential legal issues that may be involved.

Circumstances Leading Up to the Accident

On the morning of January 29, 2019, circumstances that are unknown at this time caused a medical transport helicopter to crash in a wooded area near the town of Zeleski, Vinton County, Ohio. At the time of the accident, the aircraft was enroute to a hospital in Pomeroy, Ohio to transport an emergency room patient to a hospital in Columbus. The flight crew, consisting of a pilot and two flight nurses, did not survive impact and were pronounced dead at the crash site. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), with the assistance of state and local agencies, will be investigating the accident.

The helicopter destroyed in the crash, a Bell 407, was operated by Survival Flight Inc. Survival Flight is headquartered in Tucson but maintains operational bases in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma from which it dispatches its aircraft and flight crews.

How the accident occurred

According to ABC News, and citing the NTSB as its source, between January of 2009 and November 2018 there were 75 medical transport helicopter accidents. Of those accidents, 27 resulted in the deaths of all that were aboard at the time. We need not discuss the circumstances of these incidents except to note that they suggest that medical helicopter operations are inherently dangerous.

Based on a review of public sources, we believe that the recent Ohio crash may have been due to 1) a decision to fly in potentially-dangerous weather conditions and 2) that decision may have been influenced by a "corporate culture" that encouraged such decisions.

The decision to fly in potentially-dangerous weather conditions

The Federal Aviation Administration sets the weather "minimums" for all aircraft, not just medical transport helicopters. As to medical helicopters, such aircraft are prohibited from flying in known icing conditions or flying into a region where icing could be expected to occur. We admit that we do not know the weather conditions prior to the Zeleski crash, but in photographs taken at the scene in the hours after the incident suggest that the weather was cold and overcast.

In further support of our "bad weather" hypothesis, we note that two other medical helicopter operations in the same area were contacted about the Zeleski mission but both had declined to accept the assignment due to concerns relating to weather.

In the hours following the crash, HealthNet Aeromedical Services released a statement reading, in part:

"The … pilot assigned to that base declined to complete the flight due to atmospheric conditions which fell below published operational weather minimums."

as did MedFlight / Metro Aviation:

"… we received a request to transport a patient from the Holzer-Meigs Emergency Room in Pomeroy at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 29th. Our pilot, working with the Operational Control Center at Metro Aviation, Inc., our aviation operator, determined that weather conditions at the time of request were below our program's weather minimums."

Based on the above, we feel that the NTSB will eventually find that the helicopter was brought down by ice that formed on the aircraft after it flew into weather conditions that an experienced pilot would have recognized as dangerous.

A "corporate culture" that may have encouraged dangerous decision-making

Within days of the Survival Flight crash, an anonymous source forwarded a copy of the company's "reference manual" to the Columbus (OH) ABC affiliate, WSYX. A reproduction of a page in that document states that:

"Our [Survival Flight] weather minimums are different, if other companies turn down the flight for weather - CALL US."

Although many would consider that statement to indicate a "casual" approach to safety concerns on the part of Survival Flight, there is other evidence in support of our position that appeared before the Zeleski crash.

Glassdoor.com describes itself as "… a website where employees and former employees anonymously review companies and their management." A check of Glassdoor's Survival Flight page

  • A communications specialist in Mesa AZ wrote "… leadership that is only worried about their jobs and not the patients, staff, or crews. Many safety issues were ignored to save money and good people were fired for bringing up said issues. Company values money only and has no interest in advancing their employees.

    Under the heading "Advice to Management" the same reviewer wrote "… Hire competent technical staff and fix damaged equipment, especially communication and location equipment on helicopters. Stop being lazy too. The general managers were never around, never available by phone or email, but were insistent that all decisions go through them first."

  • Under the same heading another Mesa employee wrote "Do not hire your kids to do managerial/HR duties!"

Once again, the commentary presented on this page is base on preliminary information that may very well be refuted later. We encourage those with an interest in this tragedy to visit our website often for updates on this, and other, medical transportation accidents.

Categories: Helicopter Accident

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

After an accident, the responsible party's insurance company may try to reduce the claim amount. Commonly, insurance adjusters are trained to get information from the injured to assist in reducing the claim. Though some insurers are less guilty of this practice than others, it is important to realize that insurance companies are profit-oriented corporations and reducing claims results in increased profits for shareholders. This can create a situation for the injured in which they are offered a settlement that does not truly reflect the damages suffered. If you accept this settlement, you lose the ability to get more money should your injuries require further medical treatments. It is critical that victims get legal assistance in any personal injury case, and The Doan Law Firm is prepared to fight relentlessly for your rights.

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