NTSB live hearing about EMS helicopters

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The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting a 4-day public hearing about the safety of helicopter emergency medical services (EMS) operations. The hearing begins today and is being broadcast live via the Internet.

According to a press release from the NTSB issued November 10, 2008, this is the reason for the hearing:

The NTSB issued a Special Investigation Report on EMS Operations in January 2006. The report involved the analysis of all EMS-related aviation accidents that occurred from January 2002 through January 2005. There were a total of 55 accidents that occurred during this 3-year window; 41 helicopters and 14 airplanes. These accidents killed 54 people, and seriously injured 19. Analysis of the accidents indicated that 29 of 55 accidents could have been prevented with corrective actions identified in the report.

However, over the past 11 months the Safety Board has investigated nine fatal EMS Accidents with a total of 35 fatalities. In 2008 alone there have been 7 fatal accidents with 28 fatalities. This is a drastic increase in accidents since the Special Investigation Report and therefore has prompted the Safety Board to examine this issue in greater detail by holding this hearing.

Wildland firefighters have a special interest in this hearing, in that Michael MacDonald of the Chief Mountain Hot Shots who was being evacuated by helicopter from a fire in Grand Canyon National Park died in a crash on June 29, 2008. Also killed was Tom Clausing, 42, formerly a Grand Canyon National Park employee, who was the flight paramedic on the helicopter.

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