During a response to a single-car rollover on Interstate 84 in Utah this week, a medical chopper made a “hard landing” and clipped a nearby street sign in the process.
In aviation terms, a hard landing is when an air vehicle touches the ground with greater force than in a normal landing. This can result in bouncing and rocking from side-to-side or front-to-back. Witnesses said the helicopter rose about 10 feet in the air and looked like it was about to tip over on its side during the landing.
The victim of the crash had rolled three times off the highway, hitting a tree, after falling asleep while driving and over-correcting with the steering wheel upon waking. The victim appeared to be injured seriously enough for the fast-responding firefighters to call in a medical helicopter transport from the nearby University of Utah Hospital.
The Federal Aviation Administration reports that in the last twelve months, the rate of “serious” near collisions between commercial airliners has increased from 2.44 per million flights to 3.28 per million flights.
This rise could be due to the fact that there are more aircraft in the sky today than ever before. Meanwhile, the air traffic control infrastructure that governs the increasingly packed skies has changed little. Moreover, approximately half of all commercial air traffic now consists of smaller regional jets flying short trips at low altitudes. This means that the airspace closest to airport terminals has never been more congested than it is today, and more planes are flying all the time.
The FAA, as well as pilot and air traffic controller organizations, have stated that they are monitoring the situation carefully. Meanwhile, the Washington Post has issued sobering reports of dangerous mistakes made by air traffic controllers in their state which could have led to mid-air collisions if they hadn’t been corrected.