Texting While Flying Linked to Helicopter Crash

In 2011, an emergency medical helicopter crashed near Mosby Airport in Missouri, killing four. It was recently revealed that the pilot was sending and receiving multiple text messages at the time of the crash.

Although the consequences of texting while driving are well known, this is the first time the distraction has been implicated in a fatal aviation crash. The LifeNet helicopter was carrying three crewmembers and a 58-year-old patient at the time of the crash. All were killed. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation to determine the cause of the crash.

The U.S. National Transportation Board (NTSB) has documentation of seven text messages sent and received by the pilot in the moments before the crash. The helicopter was owned and operated by Air Methods Corporation, which prohibits pilot’s use of electronic devices.

A University of Utah professor who studies potential distractions caused by personal electronic devices affirmed that this case is a classic example of dividing attention and compromising safety. He stated that, in his lectures, he used to give ludicrous examples of pilots using personal cell phones during flight to drive his points into students. Now, his extreme allegory has become a reality.

The pilot received four texts from a friend at work and sent three more during the course of the flight. In one of these texts the pilot told his co-worker that he had not slept well the night before and had failed to refuel the helicopter before taking off to Missouri.
In 2011, an NTSB board member said that the current crash record for medical helicopters was unacceptable. A report in that year cited Helicopter EMS crews as the occupation with the highest risk.

Also in 2011, a helicopter crashed into Manhattan’s East River shortly after takeoff. Five people were on board at the time, three of whom died. The pilot, Paul Dudley, managed to swim to safety after the crash. Dudley is an experienced pilot who had successfully navigated emergency situations before. The NTSB determined that the helicopter was significantly overweight at the time of its take off. Dudley initially anticipated taking only two passengers on the flight, however, the passengers brought along two other adults at the last minute.

NTSB investigators found that Dudley did not ask for anyone’s weight nor did he perform any calculations before taking off. Officials stated that the helicopter’s weight, environmental wind factors, and ineffective pilot maneuver were the causative factors in the crash.

2013 is not turning out to be any better for EMS helicopters. In Oklahoma alone there have been two crashes this year. The first occurred in Seminole County; fortunately, all four crew members survived, although they are all seeking legal action. The most recent Oklahoma crash, however, was fatal, killing two crewmembers and injuring a third. The helicopter was owned by EagleMed.

In 2009 the NTSB sent a report to the FAA detailing ten recommendations to improve EMS flight safety. Among these recommendations included improved training, use of night vision technology, and requiring autopilots for those pilots flying operating the helicopter alone. Helicopter EMS crews are often placed in difficult and dangerous situation because they are under significant pressure. The business is also, surprisingly, extremely competitive, which only contributes to crew scrutiny.

One year after the NTSB recommendations, FAA proposed a new rule addressing many of these issues, although the new regulation is still under final review. The FAA stated that air medical teams are too often taking risks in bad weather, at night, and in unfamiliar or hazardous terrain. If the proposed regulations are approved, it would cost the industry about $136 million, although the total benefit would reach about $160 million in the next decade.

Helicopter crash lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight these stories to remind the public that anyone can be a victim of an air medical accident. No one knows when or if they will have a medical event that will require the assistance of an air medical team. If you or a loved one was seriously injured or killed in a helicopter crash, you may be entitled to significant compensation through a lawsuit against the negligent party, and should contact a skilled attorney as soon as possible.

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