Friday, December 16, 2016

Accident Review... Knowing when to say "enough."

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, March 06, 2015 in St Louis, MO
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/22/2016
Aircraft: Airbus Helicopters (Eurocopte EC-130-B4, registration: N356AM
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The emergency medical service (EMS) helicopter was landing on a privately owned elevated heliport to pick up two medical crewmembers. The medical crewmembers had been dropped off with a patient on a preceding flight. During the preceding flight, the nurse thought about telling the pilot to abort the landing on the heliport because there was a lot of rolling and yawing, and he was having a hard time landing the helicopter. After the landing, the nurse and another medical crewmember stated that the pilot did not want to depart the heliport, but the medical crewmembers told the pilot that there may be potential arrivals of other EMS helicopters. The pilot chose to depart the heliport and obtained fuel at the operator's base of operations. For the return flight to pick up the two medical crewmembers, the wind had increased, and the helicopter approached the heliport in high-wind conditions and with a right, quartering tailwind. Also, the wind along with the surrounding buildings likely created a turbulent airflow/windshear environment in which the helicopter was operating as it approached for landing. The helicopter's operation in a high-power, low-airspeed condition in high-wind conditions, including a right quartering tailwind, likely resulted in a loss of control due to settling with power.

A security video showed the helicopter on a northerly flightpath descending at about a 45-degree angle before impacting the ground and coming to rest on an approximate northerly heading. The pilot sustained fatal injuries due to the subsequent fuel tank fire/explosion, which otherwise would have been a survivable accident.

A postaccident safety evaluation of the heliport showed that the final approach and takeoff area/safety area were obstructed by permanent and semi-permanent objects that pose a serious hazard to helicopter operations. These obstructions limited the available approach paths to the heliport, which precludes, at times, approaches and landings with a headwind. The helipad is privately owned; therefore, it is not subject to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification or regulation.

A review of the helicopter's flight manual revealed that there were no wind speed/azimuth limitations or suggested information available to pilots to base the performance capabilities of the make and model helicopter in their flight planning/decision-making process. Examination of the helicopter revealed no anomalies that would have precluded normal operation and showed engine power at the time of impact.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot's decision to land during unfavorable wind conditions, which resulted in a loss of control due to settling with power. Contributing to the accident were the lack of an adequate approach path due to numerous obstructions and the lack of available guidance regarding the helicopter's performance capabilities in the right quartering tailwind condition.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Flashback Friday: ICE ICE Baby!

In some parts of the country, it's almost that time of year for ice on and in the aircraft. a couple of years ago, we in HEMS crashed a machine due to liquid water (rain) getting into the skyward facing engine air inlet - which was covered by a particulate (dirt) barrier.
As temps dropped throughout the night, the liquid turned to ice. The crew launched on a flight, and the ice underneath the filter broke loose and got sucked into the turbine a short time after takeoff. The ice destroyed the engine and the aircraft did not autorotate successfully. 

A warm hangar would have helped...

A special notice about this is here...

While installing inlet covers is a pain, if a hangar is not available, and it is going to rain on your aircraft as the temperatures drop, it may be something to consider. We at this base are going to have to go out and run the aircraft each cold morning to defrost the blades, or suffer a delay upon activation for a ground run and visual check of the rotor blades. If there is frost on the cars in the parking lot, there is frost on the blades...

safe flights...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

For the love of flight...

Disclaimer: This isn't a story about HEMS. Yes it's a HEMS blog, but sometimes our minds wander.

If you are a HEMS pilot, or crewmember, it's late enough in the day that your chores are done. You may have done a flight, had lunch, enjoyed your safety nap, started CTS or AVSTAR and said...

Not today!

Rejoice! We have something that will make you smile.

No helicopters were harmed in the making of this film...

Maybe next year someone will show up with a wing that spins...

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

From our Facebook page... Whose business is it anyway?

One of the two "business ends" of HEMS. That's what makes HEMS so interesting. And challenging.
HEMS is half healthcare and half aviation. So are we an aviation industry that adds a healthcare component as we fly people? Or are we a healthcare industry hiring a helicopter to shorten timelines?

Yes. We are both.

We need each end of that flying ICU to operate at peak efficiency. And to do that we have to work together. Straight up.

Pilots. Please don't interpret questions from your crew as threats to your position. Please ask yourself, is there some way I could handle this better? If they have a weather app on their smartphone, use it, and them, as another resource. Don't get angry when a crew member is looking at weather. Hundreds of us have killed hundreds of them. In weather. You may know that you are better than the folks that crashed. So did they, as they walked out to their helicopter for the last time... Patience and humility.

Clinicians. Please understand all of the information that your pilot is processing and acting upon, even as they sit there quietly and wiggle sticks. They weight of their responsibility is heavy, and pressure changes behavior. Patience and humility.

Leadership. Do not let a sore fester in your program. The infection WILL spread.
Do your job.

All. Please communicate clearly and calmly. Try to discharge your emotions when searching for information. Say what you mean to say...

It's a matter of life and death that we do this correctly.


Monday, August 8, 2016

Reputation Unsullied...

Have you heard the news?

Clint is directing another movie. and it's going to be a good one; a must-see for any aviation professional. Mr. Eastwood has set about the task of telling the story of an un-remarkable man, who performed a remarkable feat on a beautiful clear morning in New York City.

Just about enough time has passed since Chester "Sully" Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles successfully negotiated a dual-engine failure and performed a flawless "dead-stick" landing into the Hudson River.  We can discover the wonder all over again.

Here's the remarkable thing about Sully. Until the day he lost both engines, his life was - well - unremarkable. But when his measure was taken, he measured up. A random event allowed him to demonstrate his skill, his coolness under pressure, his ability to use CRM effectively.

Sully did have some things going for him. First, his employer allowed him to train regularly for loss of power and forced landing situations. He sat in a classroom and studied airline crashes. His company paid for the overtime to allow the pilots to be fully prepared for the worst case. Since his adventure turned him into a celebrity, he has used his platform to warn of a general deterioration in pilot training. He says "we need to respect the profession."

Sully and his peers admired another pilot - Al Haynes - who had to land a jet he could not control. Sully views Haynes' ability to save so many of his passengers and crew as a triumph of individual preparation and flawless teamwork. True, Sully had experience flying gliders during his time at the Air Force Academy. But perhaps the main thing in his favor that morning was his mindset. His attitude.

When a flock of birds flew into his path and fragged both motors, he was not startled. He didn't waste a second thinking "this can't be happening to me." He made a quick decision on how to resolve his problem.

ATC offered several landing options. Sully said, "We're going into the river..."

Aviation is so safe today that it's easy for us to relax and take it for granted. Turbines are so reliable that we can become complacent and disregard the thought of losing power at the worst possible moment. But turbines do fail.

Image courtesy John Thompson

"witnesses said the helicopter reached about 80 to 100 feet when it suddenly plummeted to the ground in a cloud of blue smoke."

The pilot of this helicopter was faced with a "Sully Situation." He had just taken off, in a manner consistent with his training and experience. He didn't have the benefit of a long runway that would allow him to stay out the avoid-area of his aircraft's height-velocity diagram. When single-engine helicopter pilots depart hospital helipads, which are often pinnacles or confined areas. they tend to make an altitude over airspeed departure. We go right into the coffin-corner of the dead-man's curve. We initially climb vertically. That way, if the engine quits we can go back to the spot from whence we departed. Or perhaps to an adjacent parking lot. It's a calculated risk-decision. Mind you, it's not a one-size fits all situation. Every takeoff and landing area is different, and each requires forethought and planning. A little bit of "what-if."

But how many of us actually think about the engine failing each and every time we take off? Do we announce. as part of our take-off briefing, "and our forced landing areas will be...?"

When our engine quits, will we show the right stuff? Will we be like the gent flying the helicopter above? Yes, that man bent the skids. That's what the book says will happen at that combination of altitude and airspeed. But way more importantly that pilot saved himself and his crew. He is the skilled and capable helicopter pilot who can forever-more be referred to as the Chester "Sully" Sullenberger of Helicopter EMS.

What about us? When it's our turn, will we be as good as the gent above?

Or will we be just another dead pilot and crew?

It's up to us to fly right.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

AMRM 101.... Managing fatigue


"The nurse was restocking the drug bag after landing. The crew had just completed a patient transfer from a rural facility to a major metropolitan hospital.  He knew what supplies had been used, or at least he knew what supplies were supposed to be used, and as he inventoried the drugs, one that was supposed to be consumed wasn't. Worse, one that was not supposed to be gone was. The patient had been given the wrong medication. He immediately went inside his base and called the receiving hospital. "Hello, I just flew in Mr. Doe. I am afraid we may have made a mistake with his meds..."

The FAA and the NTSB have identified fatigue as a silent partner in most of the fatal accidents we suffer in HEMS. In recognition of this fact, the study and discussion of fatigue has been included in the list of required topics for Air Medical Resource Management and Crew Resource Management training. As it turns out, fatigue can be factored into many of the mistakes and mishaps we experience. If your mouse is tired, you don't need a better mouse trap.

From advisory circular 00-64...

(3) Fatigue Countermeasures. The term “fatigue” has been used to describe many
different experiences: sleepiness, physical tiredness, inability to focus mentally, time on duty,
types and number of missions, prolonged stress, and other factors. The effects of fatigue, which
concern the operational community, are those that affect crew member alertness and
performance. This type of fatigue stems primarily from sleep loss, circadian rhythm disruption,
lack of fitness, inadequate food and fluid intake, and the interaction of these physiological

From CFR part 135...

§ 135.330 Crew resource management training.
(a) Each certificate holder must have an approved crew resource management training program that includes initial and recurrent training. The training program must include at least the following:...
(6) Effects of fatigue on performance, avoidance strategies and countermeasures;

The flight paramedic finished his good-byes and climbed into his truck for the hour-long ride home. It had been a long and a good shift, with a pilot and nurse he enjoyed working with. The three of them seemed to click together as a team, and they had completed four flights! The workload and activity had helped him feel okay through out the day and night, although he did struggle a bit completing the last of the charts. Charting had kept him from resting, and he had considered the need to close his eyes for a bit. But his base needed every flight, and he had willingly done his part to make the flights happen. He was a member of a team, and the team needed him.

He departed the secondary road and eased onto the interstate highway for the long, boring ride to the city. As he rode along, cruise control set and cool air flowing, he began to feel drowsy. "Thank goodness this didn't happen last night" he thought to himself, and sat up straight in his seat. He turned on the radio, and set the volume up higher than normal. He stretched his neck and head left, then right. He took a deep breath and flexed his hands. "Come on dude. You can do this. Wake up!" 

Ten minutes later he was struggling to stay awake. He was too comfortable, and too relaxed. He thought, "twenty more minutes and I am home." He checked his side and rear mirrors, no traffic. Just him and a long ribbon of smooth concrete. His eyes drooped. His breathing and heart rate slowed. He was no longer concerned. His eyes drifted shut and a peaceful, wonderful sleep came upon him. 

The white Ford pickup truck drifted from it's lane. It veered increasingly right, rumbled across the wake-up strips, and dove into the drainage ditch. At this juncture, the stage was set. Nothing was going to change the outcome...

HE WOKE UP! "OH CRAP." The front-end of the truck plowed into the ditch, and mud, water and weeds flew up across the hood and windshield.  And then he was in the trees...

One of the realities of modern life is that we try to squeeze more out of every resource available. Any unused  margin of capability is viewed as a wasted opportunity to increase personal or professional gain. When our schedule is maxed out, it's easy to forego a  good night's sleep.

We cram more requirements into a given time-period. We accept more demands on ourselves. We expect more from others.  And thanks to "the social normalization of deviance," we take this abnormal and unhealthy situation in stride without much thought.

The problem with this lifestyle? This business ethos? This way of living and working?

Well, we are still human. We must contend with human factors. Humans don't work well when tired...

If you are a supervisor, and you don't think fatigue in your employees means anything to you, study this chart. You may see it again someday in a court room...

Managing fatigue requires commitment from both employee and employer....

As managers of the human resource that is "us" we have a moral and ethical obligation to pay due diligence to our own personal fatigue state. As HEMS team members, we operate in an extremely high-consequence world. Society and gravity hold us to a high standard when it comes to any negligence or lack of preparation for our duties.

Let's consider 24-hour shifts for medical flight team members. After initial resistance, the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS) got on board with 24-hour shifts, with stipulations.

In case you have forgotten, here's what CAMTS standards have to say about 24 hour shifts.

01.07.00 STAFFING
The service must have written operational policies to address each of the areas listed below:
01.07.01 Scheduling and individual work schedules demonstrate strategies to minimize duty-time fatigue,
length of shift, number of shifts per week and day-to-night rotation. (See References for circadian rhythm,
Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) and other fatigue studies.)
1. On-site shifts scheduled for a period to exceed 24 hours are not acceptable under most circumstances.
The following criteria must be met for shifts scheduled more than 12 hours.
a. Medical personnel are not required to routinely perform any duties beyond those associated
with the transport service. (emphasis added)
b. Medical personnel are provided with access to and permission for uninterrupted rest after
daily medical personnel duties are met.
camts.org Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems
10th Edition Accreditation Standards
c. The physical base of operations includes an appropriate place for uninterrupted rest.
d. Medical personnel must have the right to call “time out” and be granted a reasonable rest
period if the team member (or fellow team member) determines that he or she is unfit or unsafe
to continue duty, no matter what the shift length. There must be no adverse personnel
action or undue pressure to continue in this circumstance.
e. Management must monitor transport volumes and personnel’s use of a “time out” policy.

From personal experience over 17 years flying HEMS; I can tell you that management is pretty good at "monitoring transport volumes," but not so good at offering "a time out policy."

If your company requires a crew member to notify two or three levels of management before calling a time out, then you don't really have a time-out policy. You have something written in a book that says you have a policy, but your real policy is that your employees get their butts in that helicopter, no matter how tired they may be. If you tout your company's CAMTS certification, but don't adhere to the standards in good faith, then your company is CAMTS certified in name only.

Hidden factors of 24 hour shifts...

"The aircraft was in cruise flight when the nurse asked, "are you sure the weather is good enough for us to do this flight?" As this was the second time the question had been raised, the pilot determined that something was up. Something that had nothing to do with weather. He said, "guys, I checked the weather. It's way good. But if  you don't want to go, tell me and I will turn around. 


What this pilot didn't know was that the nurse in question was tired. She desperately needed sleep. But because she was the proximate cause of her own fatigue she couldn't ask for a rest. Since she only worked on the helicopter every fourth day, she took advantage of her free time and took another job in a local hospital. The demands of two full-time jobs - and her personal life - left her without enough time to rest. She anticipated catching up on sleep at work, But when the work load was steady throughout a 24-hour shift and she didn't get a chance to nap she came up short. And snappy.

Fatigue effects mood, performance, and judgement. (Dr. Mark Rosekind)

Humans are subject to two circadian (circa - around, dian - day) lows in each 24 hour day. These occur, roughly, between 2 AM and 4 AM, and then again between 2 PM and 4 PM. It is during these hours that we have the most difficulty with our mood, performance, and judgement. If we are well rested we can work through these circadian lows. If we are fatigued, then we have two impediments to overcome. And things go wrong.

Policy and schedule should allow crews to rest during circadian-low periods, unless a patient-flight is at stake. This is when our bodies need to rest, and when our performance is most degraded.

It's true, safety-naps increase safety. 

Crews working an extended shift should take advantage of any rest-opportunity during these low periods. Turn off the TV, shut down facebook (or this blog), and close your eyes.

We as individuals have an obligation to do our part by showing up for work rested and ready. The company should not need a policy that you do not work another job for 8 or 10 hours before reporting for work. You should know this yourself. You are going to be flying a helicopter or taking care of sick people who trust you with their lives. Don't violate this trust.

If I am making you angry without cause, I apologize. If I am making you angry because you recognize yourself in these anecdotes, get angry, then fix the problem.

If you are scheduled to work a 24 hour shift tomorrow, then today should be protected, when it comes to work-load, stress-inducing activity, diet, and drinking. Do drink water. Alcohol? Not so much, if any.

Sidebar: After I volunteered to serve in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, I was sent to SERE (Survival, evasion, resistance, and escape) school. As part of SERE, I was captured and held in a prison camp. I was made to stay awake for three days. As part of the torture regimen I was forced to drink liter upon liter of water. What I didn't know then, but I do know now, is that drinking so many liters of water helped my body cope with the demands placed upon it. If you are subject to a fatigue-causing scenario, drink water until you can't take any more. If you are using caffeine to mitigate fatigue, fair enough, but follow it with water...

"Without adequate hydration, bodies can experience more muscle soreness, the need for longer recovery times and less desire to push oneself – in short, dehydration can make you feel less motivated to achieve at any activity. As little as 3 percent or more loss of body weight due to dehydration can cause as much as a 10 percent drop in performance level. One study of athletes found after limiting fluids for 15 hours, 92 percent felt tired, had lapses in memory and difficulty concentrating."  text courtesy truelemon.com

Finally, lets consider the role of the company-leadership in controlling fatigue for employees working 24-hour shifts. Let's go back to the CAMTS stipulation that crews shall not be required to perform any duty beyond those associated with medical transport - flying sick people and charting medical treatment.

Dear supervisor, leader, manager,

If you require your flight team, during a 24 hour shift, to perform ancillary duties not directly related to the care and transport of sick people, such as public-relations visits, teaching classes, or EMS nights-out... then you are NOT in compliance with the CAMTS standards.

And you are a contributing factor in the medical-errors made by your employees. You are a contributing factor when your employee falls asleep on the drive home after working a 24 hour shift. You are a contributing factor in your employee's degradation of mood, performance and judgement.

You are either part of a problem, or part of a solution...

You have every right to ask your people to come to work ready, rested and able. And you have a responsibility to avoid subjecting them to any extra fatigue or stress.

You owe it to them and the souls they care for...

Our world is more litigious than ever before. Take care.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Miles and I talked for an hour a couple of nights ago. These conversations that occur between those of us who serve on NEMSPA's board are rewarding and enjoyable. I have them with Rex Alexander, and Kurt Williams, and Miles Dunagan.

If you saw the video on Enroute Decision Point, you have seen Miles. If you haven't seen it, here it is...

We talked about serving as NEMSPA's president. We decided that he would be a better, more logical choice than me. He is still an active HEMS pilot. And he looks good on camera. I'm just an old has-been blogger.

Of course, NEMSPA's board has to vote, but I don't see anyone fighting Miles for the task of working daily on behalf of people who largely have little idea or concern that such work is occurring. For free.

During our chat, we had a "rest of the story" moment. I think we started out by talking about inviting Natalin Hammond to AMTC. Natalin's husband Chad was the pilot of the aircraft that crashed in Alabama recently. She contacted me and we have become friends. I think having her at the NEMSPA booth and in my presentation on nextgen AMRM for HEMS will be good for her, and good for HEMS. I think many of us believe that crashes only happen to someone else, and they are abstract events. When you speak with Natalin, it becomes real.

Sometime during our talk about Chad, we started talking about another crash. One that I am too familiar with. Miles is connected as well. I asked him to write about it.

Here is what Miles wrote...

I remember the day as yesterday. It was February 16th, 2001. I had accepted a position flying for Dale Earnhardt and it was moving day. We were leaving a good job along with friends and family to embark on what was sure to be a real adventure. Everything we owned was packed in a U-Haul van. My wife at the time and our two kids, Jessica 6 and Tully 4 months, were in the minivan and we were ready to head east. We said our goodbyes, wiped away tears, and that’s when it happened. Bob stepped forward, took the keys to the moving van from my hand and pointed to the minivan. Bob said “get in there with your family, I’m driving the moving van. You’re going to make this trip right beside your family.”  I looked at him and said, "Bob, Memphis to Mooresville NC is a 12-hour drive." He just grinned and said, "well, I’ll see ya there."

What can I say, but that was Bob Giard.

That was not the first time Bob would come to my rescue, and it wouldn’t be the last. Two days later, Dale Earnhardt was gone. For 4 days, Bob didn’t leave my side.

 I knew him for several years. The scenario played out countless times. Let’s say you’re having a crummy day. Your ticked off, feeling sorry for yourself, The whole 9 yards. Then you look up to see that big red Dodge truck pull up and your head drops. I would think to myself “crap its Bob." I would do this because I knew that without fail, in short order, I would be forgetting about what ever petty problem I was dragging with me and I would be laughing until my side hurt. You can’t help but love a guy like that. Those kind of friendships are rare.

I remember another time, very vividly, some 3 years later. It was the evening of July 12th, 2004. I had left flying in the Carolinas to return to my old job in Memphis. I locked the door to my office at Dewitt Spain Airport after my evening jog and was walking to my motorcycle for the ride home. That’s when I heard my land-line start ringing. The dilemma, put everything down unlock the door, and maybe answer before whoever is on the other end hangs up. Well, I answered. It was Bob! He had just reported for duty at Regional One in Spartanburg SC. It was a night shift. We discussed that Shelby, the kids and I would be coming to see him two days from then to check out his new Harley, on our way to Emeril Isle NC for vacation. After about 15 minutes, Bob assured me that he would be putting on his P.J’s. The weather forecast was for crummy weather, so it would be a good night to sleep. We said our goodbyes, and that was it.

The next morning, I’m riding into work and for some odd reason, I have half a dozen missed calls. I pull my bike to the side of Hwy 51, and Joe Obremski, a mutual friend and EMS pilot, tells me the news. Regional One is down. No survivors. There all gone.

Unfortunately, I lost touch with Bob’s family. People go on with their lives. I did as well. I have not visited South Carolina since Bob’s funeral.

Now, fast forward to two weeks ago. I receive a text that someone from South Carolina was looking for me. My ex-wife shared that someone wanted to talk about Bob. They had some questions. So, I made contact with them, Cecil and Roger Wilkie. These brothers wondered if Bob was a military veteran, which he is not, and also wondered when his birthday was. You see Roger came across Bobs Grave marker and discovered that 12 years later, it still had the temporary grave marker. The temporary marker did not even include Bobs birthday. Roger would like to get Bob the marker he feels he deserves, and I feel I have a duty to help. After discussing this, we are going to try to have it completed by AMTC which is in Charlotte the last week of September. I will make the hour drive to visit my friends final resting place and hopefully see his grave marker.

 Miles Dunagan
10 year EMS pilot, 
NEMSPA Board of Directors.

Miles, when you drive down to Bob's grave, I am going with you. He deserves that. He deserves a decent memorial. He tried, and failed, and paid with his life. He could have been me. 

If you read the report about Bob's crash, it resembles many others. It involves a good guy who is trying to do the right thing by helping someone, and things went terribly wrong. We involved with NEMSPA believe we can stop these events, but it will take training, and commitment. And it will take all of us working together. 

Bob Giard's memorial is going to cost around $1500. If you are interested in helping us pay for it, you can make a donation marked "Bob's memorial" through NEMSPA. Bill Winn will make sure the money comes to us. We will post the list of donors, unless you ask us not to include your name.

A kid's life saved...

Nice work team...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Stand Back From The Edge...

A young couple were walking along a country path near a seaside in England. The path ran along a tall bluff, overlooking a brilliant sea. The drop from the edge to the rocky shore and water below was over a thousand feet straight down. The weather was postcard perfect; blue skies, cool temperatures, and the still of an English morning. The young lovers wanted to get closer to the edge, but a fence had been erected by local authorities to prevent this.

People with local knowledge knew things about this precipice that strangers - new people - did not.

"Hey look!" one of the pair said.  "The fence ends up there, just another hundred yards!" "Let's go up there!"

They walked to the end of the barricade and turned toward the edge of the cliff. Underfoot, grasses and loose gravel made walking tricky, but the lure of the edge pulled them forward. As they got closer, within a few yards, the more cautious of the two said,

"Hey baby. Be careful. Not too close."

"It's okay," the other replied. "I know what I am doing!" They tiptoed to the edge, and even leaned over it slightly. The view was breathtaking, and made them dizzy. It was exciting! The cautious one pulled her head back and said, "that's enough!"

They returned home.

Five years passed.

To celebrate their anniversary, they returned to the same village, stayed in the same inn, and walked the same path. This time though, the skies were grey. The wind blustered and spit. Spray was carried up the cliff and over the edge. They were determined not to let the gale dampen their spirits, and they walked along hand in hand, with slickers to protect them from the wet.

The wind was fitful and contrary. It blew first this way, then that. It varied in intensity, and occasionally blew a gust that lifted their jackets.

Again they came to the edge of the fence, put there to protect them. Again the bold one said, "let's go look! We did it before, we can to do it again!" Worry was apparent in the other lover's reply, "I don't know. It's different now. Maybe we shouldn't."

"Come on! It will be okay! I know what I am doing!"

They crept up near the edge, the wind making it difficult to keep their balance. The cautious one crouched and sat down. "You chicken!" said the other. "We've done this before!"

At that instant, a surge of wind rising up the vertical wall formed a vortex above the edge. With startling speed and force the wind direction shifted from onshore to off,  The young lover - still standing - was blown toward the edge.

Too late!  Realization. Too close to the edge of ability! Too unpredictable the wind!

SOUTH ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – The investigation into the Friday night crash of an ARCH Medi-Vac helicopter could take as long as one year. The helicopter was heading to the Saint Louis University Hospital helipad around 11:00pm when it failed to achieve enough altitude to land. Its rotors struck the side of an outpatient clinic building before it crashed on the parking lot below.
From the NTSB...

On March 6, 2015, at 2310 central standard time, an Airbus Helicopters (Eurocopter) EC-130-B4, N356AM ... struck the edge of a hospital building and impacted its parking lot during a visual approach to the St Louis University Hospital elevated rooftop helipad (MO55), St Louis, Missouri. During the approach, the helicopter experienced a loss of directional control and entered an uncontrolled descent. The helicopter was destroyed by impact forces and a post-crash fire. The commercial pilot, who was the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. The helicopter was operated under Title 14 CFR Part 91 as an air medical positioning flight that was operating on a company flight plan. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The flight was returning to MO55 after it had been refueled at the operator's base in St. Louis, Missouri.

The flight's first approach and landing at MO55 was to drop off a medic, nurse, and a patient. During the approach, the pilot reported to the flight nurse and medic that winds were gusting to 25 knots. The flight nurse stated that helicopter was yawing quite a bit and there was a noticeable roll side to side during landing. The helicopter landed without incident during the first approach and landing. The flight then departed to obtain fuel at the operator's base and then departed to return to MO55, to pick up the medic and flight nurse.

The accident occurred during the return's approach for landing at MO55.


Accident occurred Friday, January 18, 2002 in CLEVELAND, OH
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/13/2003
Aircraft: MBB BK-117 A-3, registration: N626MB
Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious.

The medevac helicopter lifted off the hospital's roof-top helipad at night. The pilot made a right pedal turn to the northwest, facing a building that extended above the height of the helipad by approximately 10-feet. The paramedic said that when the helicopter was about 20-feet above the helipad, and while he was programming the GPS receiver, a "sudden gust" of wind push the helicopter from directly behind. He was not alerted to anything unusual until he looked up and noticed the helicopter's close proximity to a 16-floor brick building, located at the northern corner of the heliport, which extended above the height of the helipad by 4 floors. The paramedic yelled, "building, building, building!" to alert the pilot. The pilot then made a rapid right cyclic input to avoid hitting the building, but the helicopter struck the building, and fell about 13 floors to ground level.


NTSB Identification: ERA16LA159
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Friday, April 15, 2016 in Jasper, GA
Aircraft: EUROCOPTER FRANCE AS350, registration: N561AM
Injuries: 4 Uninjured.

On April 15, 2016, about 1955 eastern daylight time, a Eurocopter France AS350B2, N561AM, was substantially damaged after it impacted terrain near Jasper, Georgia. The commercial pilot and three medical flight crewmembers were not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The helicopter was operating on a company visual flight rules flight plan from Lanier Park Hospital Heliport (38GA), Gainesville, Georgia, to a helipad at Piedmont Mountainside Hospital, Jasper, Georgia. The helicopter emergency medical service flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135.

According to the pilot, he made a downwind approach to the helipad over high tension power lines and then turned onto the final leg of the approach. Then, he noted that the tail rotor became "difficult to control" and the helicopter began a "rapid descent with forward airspeed." The pilot reduced the power and unsuccessfully attempted to perform a go-around maneuver. He configured the helicopter for landing by maintaining forward airspeed, raised the nose of the helicopter, however it impacted the ground and "bounced" three times prior to coming to rest. The pilot and three medical crew members then exited the helicopter without anomaly.

A post-accident examination of the helicopter revealed that the tail-boom had partially separated from the airframe, which resulted in substantial damage. In addition, there were no anomalies noted with the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation prior to the accident.


Does anyone see a pattern here? Please forgive my sorry attempt at allegory. I am trying to sound the alarm without sounding "alarmist." I don't want to imply that helicopters can't safely land and takeoff from pinnacles and confined areas (hospital helipads), but I think we as an industry aren't doing enough to prepare ourselves for the environments we will have to face as we conduct these operations. I understand that vested interests want to downplay the dangers of flying in a helicopter. 

Talking about crashes is bad for business. But it is the best way we know to prevent more crashes.

Some ground-based hospital helipads are one-way tree-traps. Hospital administrators apparently ask the groundskeeper or the landscape designer where to put the cement. Some roof-top pads are surrounded by higher buildings that can funnel and shape wind into a hazardous air-hammer that acts on a helicopter like a Hollywood special-effect.  Only experiencing them isn't special - it's terrifying. If you live through it, one time is all it takes to know better next time.

That's what happens to most of us. We creep up to the edge of the precipice; to the edge of aircraft controllability, to the edge of hurting ourselves. And then we know. But what about the others who don't yet know. Should we let them find out for themselves in some sort of Darwinian thinning of the flock?

We need to be talking about this. But the operators don't. At least not any of the four I have worked for. They all left this up to a pilot's experience. Or "tribal knowledge" (whatever the hell that is). Mind you, a HEMS pilot used to come to the game with 3000 hours of flight experience, often in combat, often in a variety of environments, often with actual IMC flying experience. 

Those days are over. Here's today's pipeline; civil instruction, instructing, an IFR ticket with no cloud time. Time building offshore or on tours, and then welcome to HEMS.

Pilots receive a minimum of environmental training, unless it's required for a specific job, like long-line. Today's requirements for a HEMS job are more relaxed than they were when I started in 1999, in both quantity and quality. Employers are dipping deeper into the labor pool. It's cheaper to lower standards than it is to raise compensation, although that often turns out to be a false economy.

An anecdote. Yesterday  I asked a flight nurse at a random base in the US to ask the pilot, on duty with him a question. 

"What is the maximum downwind component with which you can land at a hospital helipad?" The answer? "Seventeen knots." So, where does that number come from? Seventeen knots happened to be the windspeed at the airport on the day of that aircraft's certification testing for controllability in a crosswind

The test-pilot, flying over a flat, unobstructed airport, wanted to show that the helicopter was capable of flying in adverse conditions, like a crosswind. This helps sell helicopters. The test pilot was able to control the helicopter that day, in that environment, and the measured windspeed was 17 knots. So the certifying body allowed the manufacturer to put that number in the rotorcraft flight manual. 

What does 17 knots mean to us as we head into a hospital helipad with a tail wind? Not one darned thing. And the pilot who was asked that question hasn't been taught that by the people who hired him, and trained him, and put him on the line flying HEMS. So as it stands today, he will learn about landing at a hospital helipad with a crosswind or tailwind by trial and error. And he will probably be okay. 


That question, asked of a random HEMS pilot, was my non-scientific research into the need for this blogpost. I actually need to be studying for the USCG captain's test right this minute, but my conscience is driving me to sit here and write this. I don't want to read about any more crashes or meet any more widows. I mean, really, haven't we had enough of that? If the operators won't fix this mess we will have to fix it ourselves. "Okay Maverick, it's time for some of that pilot stuff."

I ask you pilots who have been at this awhile to help your brothers and sisters out. Talk about this at shift change. Talk about the scary helipads in your area. Talk about the conditions you will tolerate, and those you won't. Share some of that "tribal knowledge." If you want to be really squared-away come up with a locally produced task-condition-standard for cross-wind, tail-wind, high-wind, and gust-spread landings at any confined or obstructed pinnacle helipads in your area.

Don't bet your life on the head-shed handling this. They are overworked and understaffed.

Finally - if it was me - having to land downwind in a heavily-loaded helicopter into a confined area or onto a pinnacle affected by other taller structures? The maximum tail-wind or crosswind component would be 5 knots or less. Not 17 knots. With no, zero, nada, zilch, gust-spread. If I can't land into a stable flowing wind while going into a crappy obstructed confined hell-hole, I am going somewhere else. Winds gusting around obstacles create shear, instant changes in lift and drag that affect different portions of the rotor disk differently, coupled with instant changes in tail rotor authority. Aircraft control can be here one instant, gone the next. I am going somewhere else. Like to an airport. The kind of place where that 17 knot number came from.

Safe flights!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

TBT... ER's Drama Drawn From Real Life...

Do you remember this event? I do. I flew with flight nurse Carolyn Barkow, out of the Lodi, Ohio base, shortly after this crash occurred. She was devastated. The pilot, Mr. Spence, had recently changed employers for personal reasons. She told me that he was an extremely safe and conscientious pilot. You can learn something from studying this. Put yourself in this situation. What would you do differently?

There are no new types of air crashes—only people with short memories. Every accident has its own forerunners, and every one happens either because somebody did not know where to draw the vital dividing line between the unforeseen and the unforeseeable or because well-meaning people deemed the risk acceptable.
If politics is the art of the possible, and flying is the art of the seemingly impossible, then air safety must be the art of the economically viable. At a time of crowded skies and sharpening competition, it is a daunting task not to let the art of the acceptable deteriorate into the dodgers' art of what you can get away with.

Helicopter Crashes Into Hospital Courtyard, Killing 2

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - A helicopter en route to pick up a patient crashed and exploded Friday in a hospital courtyard, killing the pilot and a nurse and injuring a medic.
The crash left a trail of broken windows from the top 12th floor of a tower at University Hospitals.
The helicopter had lifted off the roof about 12:24 a.m. when it apparently veered back into the building, located in the University Circle neighborhood of museums, colleges and well-kept homes.
"I heard and felt the first explosion and saw the fire and couldn't believe it," said Stacy Fetzer, a nursing student who works at the hospital and lives nearby.

Pilot William R. Spence, 51, of Marshallville, and flight nurse Kelly Conti, 38, of Wickliffe, were killed and medic Joe Paoletta, 29, of Brecksville, was burned over 25 percent of his body. He was in serious condition at MetroHealth Medical Center.
Spence died of burns and smoke inhalation, according to Cuyahoga County Coroner Elizabeth K. Balraj, and Conti died of head, neck and pelvis injuries.
No one was hurt in the hospital, which had about 850 of its 947 beds filled. Patients and staff members rushed to look out the windows.

NTSB Identification: IAD02FA026
The docket is stored in the Docket Management System (DMS). Please contact Records Management Division
Accident occurred Friday, January 18, 2002 in CLEVELAND, OH
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/13/2003
Aircraft: MBB BK-117 A-3, registration: N626MB
Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious.
NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The medevac helicopter lifted off the hospital's roof-top helipad at night. The pilot made a right pedal turn to the northwest, facing a building that extended above the height of the helipad by approximately 10-feet. The paramedic said that when the helicopter was about 20-feet above the helipad, and while he was programming the GPS receiver, a "sudden gust" of wind push the helicopter from directly behind. He was not alerted to anything unusual until he looked up and noticed the helicopter's close proximity to a 16-floor brick building, located at the northern corner of the heliport, which extended above the height of the helipad by 4 floors. The paramedic yelled, "building, building, building!" to alert the pilot. The pilot then made a rapid right cyclic input to avoid hitting the building, but the helicopter struck the building, and fell about 13 floors to ground level. The paramedic did not see or hear any warning lights, horns or unusual noises, and was not aware of any mechanical problems with the helicopter. A police officer who flew two missions in the local area prior to the accident said the wind speed at 500 feet agl was at least 25 knots and gusting from the south/southwest. He stood on the primary helipad after the accident and said mechanical turbulence from the building was evident. An FAA inspector who also stood on the rooftop helipad after the accident said the wind gusts were about 20-30 knots from the southwest and they swirled around the heliport. Review of the helicopter flight manual revealed, "Directional controllability during take-off and landing is assured for flight condition with crosswind components up to 17 [knots].

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

AMRM Training Solutions : Knowledge Test and Discussion Builder.

Feel free to use this test in your safety training sessions, or crew briefings. You may copy and paste, and add or subtract material as desired. We ask that you credit AMRM Training Solutions in your final product. We think the answers should be self-evident; but if you would like to discuss our ideas about the correct answers, leave a comment.

Safety Day – AMRM Training

Created by:
AMRM Training Solutions



Air Medical Resource Management

AM                        PM


Please read each question carefully and circle what you think is the best answer. Some of these questions are purposely designed to foster discussion and interpretation.

1.     According to the Federal Aviation Administration, what percentage of aviation accidents are attributable to human error?

a.    40% to 50%

b.    70% to 80%

c.    100%

2.     In what way does Air Medical Resource Management Training differ from Crew Resource Management Training?

a.    CRM training was originally intended for the major airlines, and more recently has been required for part-135 air carriers as well. CRM is required for everyone on board our helicopters. AMRM training is only pertinent to medical flight team members.

b.    CRM training is more important than AMRM training and carries the weight of law, as it is required by the FAA. AMRM training is voluntary and is designed to make medical flight team members “feel good.”

c.    CRM training is only required for the pilot – the only FAA-acknowledged “crew.” AMRM training is intended for all persons involved with Helicopter Air Ambulances. CRM training is required by regulation. AMRM training is recommended by advisory circular and required for CAMTS certification.

3.      As no policy, procedure, or protocol can cover every eventuality for operations in naturalistic environments, what are the three major considerations for decision making, in order of importance, in the absence of other guidance?

a.    Company, Safety, Patient

b.    Patient, Safety, Company 

c.    Safety, Patient, Company

4.      (Non-clinicians, pilots etc., for the purposes of this question, put yourself in the role of medical flight team member :  the purpose of this question is to spark thought and discussion, and your response may be subject to program factors/protocols) You are on scene with your helicopter, picking up a victim of trauma. The pilot advises that “you need to hurry, as a thunderstorm is rapidly approaching your planned destination – receiving hospital.” As you hear this call come over the radio, you are in the back of an ambulance preparing to intubate. What is your response?

a.    You respond to the pilot, “okay, we are getting ready to tube this guy, we will hurry up and be right with you. Keep the aircraft running!”

b.    You ask the pilot to coordinate with your com- center on other possible hospitals for the patient, advising him that you are preparing to intubate and may be delayed. You are aware that other destination hospitals may not have all the capabilities and resources that your primary destination had, for example level 2 trauma center status.

c.    You tell the pilot that you will be proceeding inbound by ground to your primary destination, and he is clear to depart immediately. You are aware that this will create a significant delay in the patient’s arrival to definitive care – but this is your protocol.

d.    You would not select any of these options. Instead you would opt to :

5.      You were requested for an inter-facility transport from a distant hospital. While enroute and after an extended period of flight, you were cancelled due to the patient expiring. While returning to your base, you are requested for another transport.  You perform a quick check of your fuel state and the fuel required, and verify weather.  Then, after conferring with the crew, you accept the flight. Your ground time at the scene - an MVA on an interstate highway which was shut down for your landing - was extended due to prolonged extrication. Now, in-flight under visual flight rules and with an increasing headwind - and with a patient on board - you realize that your fuel state is lower than you had expected it to be. You determine that you can either; reach your destination with 5 minutes of fuel remaining, you can reach an enroute fuel stop with 10 minutes of fuel remaining, or you can land at a nearby hospital helipad immediately with 20 minutes of fuel remaining. After conferring amongst yourselves on board the aircraft you decide to:

a.    Continue on to the original destination.

b.    Proceed to the enroute fuel stop. 

c.    Land at the nearby hospital helipad.

6.      The medical flight team members have the authority and responsibility to speak up when they are concerned about safety of flight operations.

a.    This is a true statement.

b.    This is not a true statement.  As stated in the FARs, the pilot is the final authority when it comes to flight operations, and his or her decisions are final.

c.    This is a true statement, but the flight team must be aware that the timing of - and the manner in which - questions are asked and statements are made can affect responses and outcomes.

7.      One of the hazardous attitudes covered in class was judged to be the most insidious and dangerous to HAA flight teams by the AMRM instructor. It was…
a.    Invulnerability. A pilot with thousands of hours of experience judges herself to be impervious to any sort of adverse events.

b.    Anti-authority. As HAA pilots are largely self-reliant “lone-rangers”, and are frequently forced to improvise, adapt, and overcome in order to get the job done - over time they tend to bypass  rules and approved-procedures in favor of techniques that work for them personally.

c.    Get-home-it is. This is the most dangerous of all hazardous attitudes in HAA operations because, at the end of the day, we all want to get back to our base. We accept risk as a group.

8.      There is a known positive-correlation between experience-levels and the quality of decision-making. A more experienced leader or team-member has been shown by research to always make better choices.

a.    True. Intuitively we understand that experience improves understanding and the ability to make good decisions. A more experienced team is always going to perform better in a challenging environment, and there is no reason for an experienced leader or team member to include new team-members in the decision-making process. A new team member need never question the decisions of an experienced leader.

b.    False. Research has shown that decision-makers don’t always make better choices with more experience. Because of the demands of a naturalistic environment, the use of heuristics (rules-of-thumb), and choices that satisfy/suffice (satisfice) in a time-critical, high-consequence environment, experience does not always equal the best decision.

9.      Any member of our team may provide a solution to a problem, or help prevent a mishap or adverse outcome.

a.    True, even a non-aviator can provide life-saving information and assistance.

b.    False. A pilot has no business making any observations whatsoever regarding a patient’s condition or care.

10.   Conducting Helicopter Air Ambulance flight operations is inherently dangerous, and I must accept that such danger is part of the job. I don’t concern myself with “what will be.” I leave my fate to chance and hope. I know that inevitably, some number of HAA crews will be killed each year and nothing can be done to change this.

a.    This is an example of realistic thinking. Good for you. You are pragmatic enough to accept what history has repeatedly shown to be true.

b.    This is a classic example of the manifestation of the hazardous attitude known as “resignation.” I can indeed influence my fate, by adhering to the tenets of AMRM and by being an all-in member of this flight team. 

c.    As a medical flight team member, I don’t know enough about flight operations to ask questions, and I don’t feel comfortable requesting education about the flying side of HAA operations.

d.    As a pilot, I understand that “fate is the hunter,” as explained by famous aviation writer Earnest K. Gann. No matter how much I prepare, no matter how thorough and dedicated to my craft I am, I must accept the fact that a mishap is a real possibility. Since I cannot eliminate risk, I will not concern myself with it. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Problem With Flying a V-22 In The Service of Our Country...

I was contacted by a V-22 pilot who is interested in flying civilian HEMS/HAA. He wanted help getting a job, and I feel obligated to help other pilots when I can, as others helped me.

As I am learning about this powered-lift "catch-22," it becomes apparent that this problem needs attention from the Federal Aviation Administration. A V-22 pilot can fly a machine that can behave like a helicopter - or - an airplane! But their skills and experience are not recognized as such.

catch-22 (a phrase from a 60's era film)
  1. a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.

So here's the thing. A pilot who demonstrates exceptional skill during military training - and is able fly both as an airplane pilot AND a helicopter pilot - gets credit for neither skill upon separating from military service. This will tend to discourage the best pilots from entering the powered-lift arena, and will hurt the United States' military. If V-22 time is worthless to a pilot who might want to fly for either Delta OR Air Methods, no pilot will want to do it. There aren't many, if any, powered-lift jobs in the civilian sector. 

Clearly, the FAA needs to remedy this situation. Helicopter flight requires a skill-set distinct from airplane flight. The first thing that comes to mind is dealing with the torque reaction from applying power to a rotor system. And then there is hovering... I was a Chinook pilot for 13 years. Chinooks don't react to torque, as the counter-rotating rotor systems cancel torque effects. In fact, a Chinook is so different from single rotor helicopters as to perhaps be considered a different category of aircraft... But it's not. It's a helicopter. A Chinook pilot's flight experience, gained in the military, is a marketable commodity upon separation. We may be a little slow in the toes at first but we figure out which pedal to push. A V-22 pilot is, at present, denied the ability to market her skills as either a helicopter pilot or an airplane pilot. And she has been both!

When a V-22 is hovering, it's a helicopter too. It resembles a Chinook, with a lateral rotor arrangement versus a tandem one. V-22 pilots have to learn all about the pitfalls of rotorcraft flying, like vortex-ring-state/settling with power, and retreating blade stall, and then they have to learn all about the peculiarities of fixed wing flight, like stalls and spins and minimum controllable airspeeds. 

Clearly, a V-22 pilot gets taught and tested on two separate categories of flying machine, and they get credit for neither. And this is going to mean that the only career-pilots who fly them will be the pilots who can't make the cut for a more marketable flying experience. 

I believe this is a problem that social-media can fix. Here's what to write in your emails and facebook posts to the FAA administrator...

Dear Mister Huerta, 

Please help. V-22 pilot time should count for both helicopter pilot time AND airplane pilot time, because these pilots have demonstrated that they can be both. Denying them credit for the skill-sets they have worked so hard to acquire isn't just unfair to them, it will adversely affect our military.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wisdom Trumps Luck... A Retrospective Case Study, Twenty Years On...

It was an absolutely beautiful day. The pilot, nurse, and paramedic were enroute in their progam's backup aircraft, a Bolkow BO-105. As they motored across the flat terrain near Houston, Texas, a new and different whining sound began to emanate from the machinery overhead. Bobby Wisdom, the pilot flying, looked over at the nurse sitting in the aft-facing co-pilot's seat and noticed that she was looking at him. She said, "what is that?"

"I don't know." But Bobby knew that the new sound wasn't good. His training took over and he immediately lowered the collective and began looking for a place to land. As he glanced across the nurse he saw a large field out her door. Then he swung his head to the right and found an even better option, a mall parking lot at three o'clock. He began a hard turn to the right, with the collective full-down. There was a loud bang. The caution panel lit up as if the test-button had been pressed. The panel was shaking violently making it hard to read the instruments.

In the turn, he wondered if he still had power from either engine, so he gently increased collective. The rotor bled down to 85% so he immediately returned the collective to the down-stop to save what rotor RPM he had. He thought the rotor RPM might come back up in the hard right turn, but it did not.

As Bobby rolled out on final, indications were that he had suffered a dual engine failure, and he had less than a full measure of stored rotor-energy to complete his autorotational landing. He adjusted the cyclic to avoid some light poles and then the woman appeared. Directly in his path, a mother pushed her baby carriage into the place he wanted to land.

Darn the Luck...

Bobby gently adjusted the controls to avoid hitting the mother and her baby, using a bit more of his rotor RPM and stored energy. The aircraft touched down and began to slide. And slide. And slide. Trees - dead ahead. After desperately wanting the aircraft to keep moving forward, he now desperately wanted it to stop.

Finally, stop it did.

Flames and smoke began to enter the cabin. Training took over. As all of us crew members know, the safest place to be in a helicopter that has just suffered an abnormal landing is inside. As bits and parts fly off, they tend to fly away from the aircraft. The unhinging can be extremely violent. The one caveat to the "stay inside until everything stops" mantra is that if it's burning - we better get out.

What we have to keep in mind at this point is that it would be a shame to live through the emergency landing and lose our head in the egress. Unfortunately, when we are scared to death, it's hard to keep anything in mind other than MOVE.

So Bobby's nurse opened her door, and exited the aircraft at a high rate of speed. She had her headset on, and as she was a few feet into her journey she came to the end of her cord, with a jerk. Off came the headset. As this was happening, the paramedic was "high-stepping" it to get away from the aircraft, Bobby's ingrained training and habit forced him to begin securing aircraft switches and controls. Then he realized that the aircraft was really burning...

A passerby on the highway was returning from a picture-taking trip in Hooks, Texas. He saw the helicopter drop into the parking lot and begin to burn. He stopped, got out of his car, and used the last seven frames of film in this camera to capture these dramatic images. You can see the headset hanging down below the cop-pilot's door.

What started as a localized fire quickly turned into a fully involved blaze. This demonstrates why it is absolutely vital that when there is any indication of fire on your aircraft you land immediately. You don't have much time after the fire begins.

The investigation revealed that the main transmission had been serviced and cleaned with a compound designed to remove deposits from the interior surfaces and oil passages. Some of the cleaning compound remained in the passages after maintenance was complete, and served to block the flow of oil to the input-bearings, where the drive-shaft from one of the engines entered the transmission. The whining sound was the bearings seizing, and the drive shaft broke in two. "Bang."

Displaying bofire1.jpg

As the sheared shaft and it's boot flailed around inside the engine bay, fragments of debris crossed through the firewall and "fragged" the other engine. I wrote a fictional blog-post about this happening in a twin-engine helicopter in the clouds.

That fictional story is here..."What If?"

While two engines do offer us a large margin of redundancy, and increase safety, we still must keep in mind that one exploding engine can take out it's partner sitting right next door. We must be ready and proficient at autorotations; straight-in autos. autos with turn, low-level autos, and autos requiring maneuvering to avoid hazards and humans. The trend towards less rather than more autorotation training is going to mean more people will be hurt or killed after losing one or both engines. This reality is playing out in newspaper stories month after month.

Operators point to the costs of damaging aircraft in training, and the low probability of engine failure. That's all fine and good until it's your engine that quits. If you have been paying attention to the media reports, helicopter engines have been failing quite regularly lately. Maybe we should revisit how we prepare pilots for engine failures. And maybe us pilots should stop flying the helicopter as if the engine or engines will never quit.

When I was being briefed on this event, the program's director of operations told me he took this pilot out the very next day and they did autorotation training. He said, "you have to get right back to it or your thoughts will give you trouble." Real quality training is worth the money spent...

Mr. Bobby Wisdom, Memorial Hermann Lifeflight Pilot, was recognized widely following this event. He was selected to be the National EMS Pilot's Association's (NEMSPA's) Pilot of the Year in 1996. This was and is a distinct honor, congratulations sir, and thank you for decades of safe service.

Bobby is still flying the line, still teaching, still sharing the Wisdom...

May it be ever so...