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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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.