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Ems Helicopter Crashes Into Potomac River


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Bad news today...




One person killed, one rescued, one missing


Tuesday, January 11, 2005 Posted: 11:04 AM EST (1604 GMT)


OXON HILL, Maryland (AP) -- A medical helicopter crashed into the Potomac River, killing at least one person. A second person was rescued from the river and a third remained missing Tuesday.


The Life Evac helicopter went down just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge around 11 p.m. Monday. Life Evac transports patients from one medical facility to another.


"One survivor was found clinging to the wreckage; another victim was found (dead) at the wreckage," said Maryland State Police Sgt. Rob Moroney. The search continued Tuesday morning for the third person.


Authorities said the helicopter just competed a drop-off at the Washington Hospital Center and was returning to its base in Stafford, Virginia, when it went down. No patient was said to be on board.


"I saw a helicopter come across the bridge," said Maryland State Police Sgt. Billy Dunston, who was stationed at the Wilson span. "It looked pretty low to me when it went across, but I didn't see it come out the other side."


A passer-by, Arthur Stewart, helped Dunston by pinpointing where the helicopter went into the water.


"It didn't seem real. I thought it would go down and come back up," said Stewart, 39, of Washington.


The survivor clinging to the wreckage was rescued by boat. The man, whose name was not released, was in fair condition Tuesday at the Washington Hospital Center.


"We have interviewed the survivor and he believes they may have hit something," Moroney said.


The aging Wilson bridge is being replaced with a new span, and there are many large cranes at the site. Authorities said they don't know whether they played a role in the accident.


A National Transportation Safety Board investigation was launched.

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No disrespect intended to those that have suffered losses as a result of the eleven EMS helicopter crashes in 2004, but what the ****? Why are there so many? What is the US record vs Canadian record, not as a total number of crashes, but as a percentage of the total EMS hours flown? Is there something wrong with the system? :(


I'm not looking to point fingers, these are just questions bouncing around in my head.

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What is the US record vs Canadian record, not as a total number of crashes, but as a percentage of the total EMS hours flown? Is there something wrong with the system?


I think the major difference is the fact that US EMS operators respond to calls just about anywhere and fly VFR a lot in bad conditions, landing on roads, mall parking lots, etc. In Canada, most EMS operations take off and land at certified airports/aerodromes/heliports and are conducted IFR from point to point. Helicopters haven't replaced ambulances here yet...

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As Twinstar says, STARS does do alot of scene calls - day and night to "unprepared areas". Definitelty the operation containing the most risk.


The American operators fly an incredible amount of hours every year (I'm off to look up those stats next...) compared to Canadian EMS operators. It is very difficult to compare the countries fairly based on annual accident stats.


It is my expressly jaded (and humble opinion) that with the continued proliferation of single pilot EMS operations in the USA, the accident rates we are seeing will remain. I know 2 pilots aren't going to eliminate accidents (i.e. the Canadian 212 crash in Cambrige Bay in Nov) but it sure is nice to have another head next to you when things go ugly...

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Here are the accident rates for both the U.S. and Canada for a number of previous years.


Canadian Rates

American Rates


The American numbers are for Part 135 operations which includes helicopters. It appears as though the Canadian accident rate for Air Operations does not include helicopters as there is a separate listing for those. If helicopters are factored into the Canadian rate for 2002, it becomes 7.8 accidents per 100,000 hours. The American rate for 2002 was 2.0 accidents per 100,000 hours. The Canadian rate was almost four times higher, even though the Americans allow commercial single engine night VFR.


American EMS helicopter pilots are on the whole quite conservative. They do not as a rule push weather. In many companies, if any of the medical crew have reservations about the wisdom of taking a flight because of weather, the flight is refused.


As many are aware, flying a helicopter on instruments is no easy task. Even experienced IFR helicopter pilots have come to grief. One possible reason for this is lack of currency. Because of icing and lack of alternates in Canada, there just isn't enough real IFR that helicopters can fly in to keep the pilots up to speed.


What all IFR helicopters should have is an autopilot. Two pilots are not necessary. Autopilots weigh less and occupy less space than a human pilot. Autopilots rarely call in sick and they never ask for a raise.

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