Fuel exhaustion may have possibly led to the catastrophic crash of a medical helicopter that occurred in Clay County, Missouri on Friday. A pilot, two medical crew members, and a patient tragically lost their lives when the helicopter descended in a remote area outside Mosby — just one mile short of its refueling stop.
The low fuel hypothesis is merely one possible factor being looked into by federal transportation officials. NTSB investigators and FAA officials may need up to a year to determine the official cause of the accident.
The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS-350 owned by Air Methods and flown by its subsidiary, LifeNet, had departed from St. Joseph, picked up a patient in Bethany, and was headed for a hospital in the northern suburbs of Kansas City. The patient, 58, was to be transferred by air from Harrison County Community Hospital in Bethany to Liberty Hospital.
Air ambulance services on the East Coast of the United States, from North and South Carolina to New York, are on hurricane alert as Hurricane Irene gets closer to making landfall in the US. The storm, currently a Category 3, left a wide trail of destruction behind it as it left the Caribbean Sea, and it now has its course set for several of the United States’ most densely populated areas – which are, relatively, unprepared for a direct hit from a powerful hurricane.
Air Medical Services Respond
Three fixed-wing air ambulances from an air medical service in Pennsylvania were placed on alert by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency for possible work ahead, which may include transporting sick and injured patients out of Irene’s warpath. If FEMA contacts them, the air ambulances will have 6-12 hours to fly three planes full of air medical physicians, staff, and pilots to an airport located closer to the hurricane. The same Pennsylvania air medical service was called upon by FEMA to do the same for a hurricane that hit Texas last year.
A topic in the air ambulance world that’s being discussed among air medical crews in all 50 states is the new bi-partisan bill, S. 1407, that’s – rather miraculously – made its way to the floors of the embattled U.S. Congress. The bill, introduced by Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington and Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine aspires for a new level of safety regulations for air ambulances, based on the higher standards that are already in place in states like Washington and Maine.
S. 1407, the Air Ambulance Medicare Accreditation and Accountability Act, would tie Medicare reimbursement to the new safety standards, restructuring the current reimbursement system to reflect air ambulance services’ investments in safety. Consequently, this would provide even more motivation for air medical services all over the United States to increase safety levels above and beyond their already high standing.
Even after the stalemate over the national debt ceiling in Washington ended, one other important stalemate remains unresolved by lawmakers. Yesterday, negotiators in the Senate attempted to bring a quick end to the deadlock over providing temporary spending to keep the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) running. This stalemate has furloughed approximately 4,000 of the FAA’s 32,000 employees and frozen $2.5 billion in airport construction money.
Meanwhile, dozens of airport safety inspectors are being relied upon to continue working without pay, charging their government travel expenses to their personal credit cards to keep U.S. airports operating safely. Randy Babbitt, FAA Administrator, said that his agency was depending on the professionalism of safety inspectors to continue working while their pay awaits authorization by Congress.
Air Methods Corp., already a huge presence in the emergency air ambulance service industry, has just announced that, with the recent approval given to them by the Federal Trade Commission, they will be acquiring OF Air Holdings Corporation and its subsidiaries sooner than had been expected. They are ending the federally-required antitrust waiting period earlier than the 30 days that are normally required.
This deal between two of the biggest providers of air medical transport marks one of the most significant mergers/acquisitions in the history of the aeromedical industry.
The full transaction is expected to be completed by tomorrow (August 1). This estimate, of course, is merely based upon the current expectations of both parties. Occasionally, these type of large business acquisitions can take longer than anticipated, especially if problems are encountered. Earlier, according to a June 2, 2011 OmniFlight press release, this same transaction was expected to close in July.