March 25th, 2010
10:55 AM ET

FAA: 3 dead in medical helicopter crash

[Updated 10:55 a.m.] CNN affiliate WMC-TV said the helicopter that crashed was operated by Hospital Wing, an organization that identifies itself on its Web site as the Memphis Medical  Center's air ambulance service.

Hospital Wing said in a statement, reported by WMC-TV, that the crash occurred just east of Brownsville, and that three crew members and no patients were on board. The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating, the statement said.

"Nothing like this has ever happened in our history," Allen Burnette, Hospital Wing's director and chief operating officer, said in the statement.

[Updated at 10:05 a.m.] A helicopter had dropped off a patient in Jackson, Tennessee, and was returning to Brownsville, Tennessee, when a crash was reported about 7:12  a.m. (8:12 a.m. ET), said FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford.

Three people were initially reported to be on board the helicopter, Lunsford said. All three were believed to be fatalities, as the aircraft - a Eurocopter AS350 - was burned, he said.

Investigators were en route to the scene of the crash - a field near Brownsville, Lunsford said.

Asked if weather was a factor in the crash, Lunsford said, "obviously, they are going to look at everything." A weather report said there were thunderstorms in the area, but that they had passed by about 7 a.m., he said.

"The big weather system moving through had stopped a few moments before."

Officials believe the helicopter was operating under a Visual Flight Rules plan and not communicating with air traffic controllers, he said.

Visual Flight Rules, or VFR, mean a flight is conducted under visual conditions.

Asked who decides whether the weather is clear enough for a pilot to fly using VFR, Lunsford said, "There are operating guidelines in any aviation  operation, but ultimately the pilot is responsible for [the] safety of [the] aircraft and deciding whether to go forward or not."

– CNN's Carolina Sanchez contributed to this report.

[Posted at 10:05 a.m.] Three people died Thursday when a medical helicopter crashed in Tennessee, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

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soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Megan

    It is with great sadness I heard about the death of the Medical Flight Crew. As an Emergency Medical Technician, we are always aware of the dangers and risks we have in performing our duties. We don't do what we do for the money. We love what we do – helping people and being part of a Team. I am expressing my condolences to the family and friends of the Flight Crew; the hospital staff for losing 3 of their own; and to EMS in general. May people appreciate the hard work, sacrifices, and dangers these 3 people willingly embraced whether in the air or on the ground. May their names and memories serve to comfort those who knew them, and inspire those who will come after them. They will live on in the hearts and minds of other EMS personnel like me. God bless them and keep them in the palm of his hand. Thank God they were on this planet, because they made a difference in peoples' live, and we all are richer for it. They remind us to LIVE – not just exist; to care; and to uphold the highest standards of care in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Thank everyone who worked with them, because they must shoulder the responsibilities these 3 people left behind. Good luck to you all. I will pray for you. Respectfully, M. Pioch, EMT-B, HAZMAT Technician, ECO/EMD

    March 25, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jones

    Technology exists which can lower the risk of these kind of things happening. Small helicopters are difficult to fly and have no fail safe. There are retrofit systems out there which can bring the craft to a stable hover in the event of an incident. Maybe we need some kind of look by the FAA to see if tragic incidents like this could be mitigated by such a device. Rest in peace, fearless aviators.

    March 26, 2010 at 6:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. John

    Lets wait and get the facts before making claims or assumptions on what occurred. This is a tragedy for many, family, friends and management.

    March 26, 2010 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  4. Bill

    Jones, the AS350 is a single engine helicopter with no stability augmentation system (i.e. autopilot). It is one of the most popular aircraft in use because of it's power & safety features and is an exceptionally reliable EMS platform.
    Yes, the FAA does need to tighten up mandates but those types of regs being suggested will be at huge expense and possibly to the detriment of the air mercy services in the smaller communities. Many would not be able to afford to run medium twin-engined, autopilot equipped helicopters with all the technologies available. Ask any accident victim if they would want a light, single engine helicopter such as this one to come and rescue them in a fraction of the time that ground transportation would take and the answer would be yes 90+% of the time. Air Ambulance is an invaluable service to all of us and this crew, like many others before them and no doubt many more to come, gave their lives to care for others.
    Condolences to the loved ones left behind. Rest in peace guys, you made the ultimate sacrifice doing what you loved.

    March 26, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ken

    Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, HEMS crashes in the US will continuously be high for one simple reason – profit. Look elsewhere in the world and you will never see SPIFR HEMS (single pilot IFR helicopter EMS) flight operations. Even single engine helicopters operated VFR, like the AS350 in this crash, are complex aircraft. US HEMS operators are in business for one reason – to make money and having a second pilot just doesn't make the accounting people happy. Look at the HEMS crash stats on the NTSB's website and you will find that the number of single pilot HEMS crashes is out of control – 2 pilot HEMS crashes rarely happen. Most single pilot crashes are CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) category accidents. As a helicotper pilot, you have more risks to manage than an airplane pilot would. You have to fly the aircraft, talk on the radio, navigate, deal with cockpit distractions and avoid terrain and obstacles while flying close to the ground (usually 1000' above the ground or less) often in bad weather, darkness or a combination thereof. An extra set of eyes and hands managing the mundane cockpit tasks would allow the flying pilot to concentrate on just that – flying the aircraft.

    My heart felt sympathies to the crew's family and collegues.

    Ken/Las Vegas

    March 26, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Training

    In 2009, for the first time, training in a flight training device which could simulate actual malfunctions and a flight training device that could simulate inadvertent IMC is available. I wish more 135 operators would consider the cost of training a cost savings in the end when you look at the cost of lives and equipment. How much do you think this will cost in comparison to a $4,000 recurrent in a flight training device like FlightSafety International's AS350 FTD in Tucson, AZ? It should be an easy economical decision!

    March 26, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jones

    Bill, you're absolutley right. But the devices I'm talking about *are* for single engine rotorcraft. Retrofitted for less than $100k they effectively push the technology down to the lower end of the market. Anyway, not really the place for us hardware geeks to debate this stuff.

    March 29, 2010 at 6:25 am | Report abuse |
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