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Two Medical Helicopter Crashes Raise Safety Concerns

In 2006, the National Transportation Safety Board began an effort to improve safety in medical aircraft following a spike in the number of accidents nationwide. The progress of that initiative was called into question recently as two medical helicopters crashed on the same day, causing four injuries and three fatalities. Despite the attention of federal safety officials, medical aircraft crashes are still a significant concern.

The initial call to improve medical aircraft safety followed a three-year period in which 55 medical aircraft crashed. Those crashes cost 54 people their lives and caused an additional 18 people to suffer serious injuries. The NTSB responded by making recommendations regarding flight operations, aircraft safety equipment, pilot training and oversight of medical aircraft operation.

The most recent accidents occurred in Iowa and Oklahoma. Both crashes are currently under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the NTSB. The Iowa crash occurred at roughly 9 p.m. and cost three occupants of the helicopter their lives. The aircraft did not send a Mayday warning and the cause of the accident is not yet known. A sheriff did report ice on the road at the scene of the accident. The four crew members onboard the Oklahoma helicopter all suffered injuries, though none were considered life-threatening.

Officials cited the need to respond quickly in a range of situations, including during inclement weather and at night, as part of the inherent danger of medical aircraft operations.

Source: CNN, "Medical helicopter crashes kill 3, hurt 4 and prompt more scrutiny," by Mike M. Ahlers and Aaron Cooper, 4 January 2013

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