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Top Air Ambulance Stories of 2011


This past year was full of stories both inspiring and heartbreaking. Air Ambulance Weekly reported on important current events facing the air medical industry, the latest developments in air medical technology, fantastic life-saving stories of air ambulance crews, and ways to improve the safety of air medical operations.

Indeed, there were many events in 2011 that were not only interesting, but unique: from the supposed epidemic of sleeping air traffic controllers, to the supposed imminent shutdown of the FAA. We posted stories following tragic accidents and miraculous rescues.

When looking for the top blog posts of last year (a difficult prospect) we tried to focus primarily on over-arcing issues facing air ambulances — this is not to take anything away from the individual incidents that shaped air medical news in 2011, but we feel it’s helpful to look back at stories (especially certain recurring themes) that can help us going forward into this new year.Drug Cartels

In the beginning of the year, our blog discussed some of the drug trade-related dangers air medical crews face when flying air ambulance missions to Central American countries, including Belize, Columbia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Panama. These threats were brought to the attention of the air medical world by the AMPA’s Dr. Loyola, who had noticed the increasing sophistication of drug cartel tactics in smuggling their product out of the country. These were, and still are, very real threats that every international air ambulance service crewmember should be aware of.

The Japanese Tsunami and Earthquake

In March, we looked at the roles that air ambulances and air medical crews were playing in the response to the Japanese tsunami and earthquake crisis, as well as the high-tech robotic aircraft that were being deployed to assist in rescue zones and radiation posed a threat. In the aftermath, despite the chaos and confusion affecting air travel, healthcare workers and air medical crews from around the world put aside nationality and arrived on the island to help the country recover from the catastrophe.

Laser Pointers Interfering with Operations

Throughout 2011, Air Ambulance Weekly also reported on several major incidents involving civilian green laser-pointers being aimed at air ambulances, creating extremely dangerous situations. While these specific instances were not felt to have affected the well-being of any air ambulance patients, they did raise a rather conspicuous red flag. Following several notable instances of civilian interference with air ambulance operations (including children throwing snowballs at a medical helicopter, preventing it from landing), we explored, in-depth, the intense effects that these powerful laser pointers can have when they are aimed into the cockpit of a low-flying aircraft.

While we were unable to come to any immediate conclusions about what should be done to stem the thousands of incidents of laser pointers aimed at aircraft in the United States, we did come up with several potential options for the FAA and U.S. lawmakers to pursue. Here is a particularly interesting article about the dazzling effects lasers can have on helicopters and low-flying fixed-wing aircraft from September, involving an air ambulance carrying a cardiac arrest patient.

The Golden Hour

One of our most popular original editorials in 2011 was our post “What is the Golden Hour?” which gained quite a bit of attention on Facebook and was shared across the social networks. In the article, we defined the Golden Hour as an ever-changing window that healthcare professionals define on a case-by-case basis, rather than a set-in-stone 60 minute period. Especially applicable in emergency air ambulance operations but also relevant in the advancing world of air medical charter flights as well, the concept of the Golden Hour is often a hot topic of debate in the healthcare and air medical industry.

UK Air Ambulance Scammers

Finally, our personal favorite story of 2011 involves the saga of the UK air ambulance charities versus impostor charities trying to siphon away their life-saving funding. There were several major developments in this story last year, as immoral individuals posing as air ambulance charities tried to confuse citizens in parts of England to donate their money to them, rather than to actual charity-funded air ambulances. They were caught setting out and picking up “impostor” collection bags that strongly resembled real charity collection bags, but even this was not enough to put an end to their schemes. Later, the air ambulance offices were broken into, with a huge amount of donated money being stolen from volunteer workers at gunpoint.

Meanwhile, the air ambulances continued to fight an uphill battle, trying to educate the public about the impersonators before they could be duped into handing over their money. Ultimately, the British government stepped in and closed down the fraudulent air ambulance charity companies on the grounds that it was “in the public interest.” That sounds about right. Good going to everyone who helped track down and investigate the UK air ambulance charity impersonators in 2011!

Happy New Year!

As we go forward into 2012, we pause briefly to reflect on these and other top air ambulance stories. What can we learn from the events of last year, and how can we apply that knowledge to improve the effectiveness and safety of air ambulance missions? Do you know of a major story or issue facing the air medical field that happened last year that we somehow missed? Leave a comment below, and let us know!

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