Ambulance / Air Ambulance Collision

Ambulance / Air Ambulance Collision (Air Methods Bell 407GX N450AM)

On 3 March 2019, at about 0013 Local Time, helicopter air ambulance Bell 407GX N450AM, operated by Air Methods Corp (doing business as Black Hills Life Flight), was damaged by a ground ambulance while rotors running after landing at the village of Union Center, South Dakota to pick up a patient.

Air Methods Bell 407GX  Air Ambulance N450AM  After Being Damaged (Credit: AMC via NTSB)

Air Methods Bell 407GX Air Ambulance N450AM After Being Damaged (Credit: AMC via NTSB)

The Accident and Investigation

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) explain in their safety investigation report (issued 10 August 2020) that:

After landing, the pilot rolled the engine throttle to idle and briefed the…[medical personnel]…that they were clear to depart the helicopter. About 20 seconds into the “cool down” process the ground ambulance drove towards the helicopter and subsequently the main rotor blades impacted the top of the ambulance.

Road Ambulance After Colliding with Air Methods Bell 407GX  N450AM  (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

Road Ambulance After Colliding with Air Methods Bell 407GX N450AM (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

The flight paramedic was thrown to the ground during the collision. The main rotor blades, tail boom, and fuselage sustained substantial damage.

Air Methods Bell 407GX  Air Ambulance N450AM  Tailboom Damage (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

Air Methods Bell 407GX Air Ambulance N450AM Tailboom Damage (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

The ground ambulance driver saw the crew open the doors and get out of the helicopter, so he moved the ambulance forward to get closer to the helicopter. The ground ambulance driver stated that he did not realize “that the helicopter blades were still rotating.”

Air Methods confirmed that the ambulance driver had received their training. A review of that training indicated that ground personnel are not to approach the aircraft until the blades had stopped rotation. The training also indicated that ground vehicle lights should be turned off while the helicopter is landing. An excerpt from the Air Methods General Operations Manual stated that ground personnel will not [sic] come beneath the rotor disk until directed to do so by the pilot in command; the pilot will use appropriate hand signals to do so.

NTSB Probable Cause

The ambulance driver’s failure to see the helicopter’s rotating main rotor blades in dark night conditions, which resulted in the ambulance’s inadvertent collision with the helicopter. Contributing to the accident was the ambulance driver’s failure to follow procedures when approaching the helicopter.

Air Methods Bell 407GX  Air Ambulance N450AM  After Being Damaged (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

Air Methods Bell 407GX Air Ambulance N450AM After Being Damaged (Credit: FAA via NTSB)

A Drunken Prelude

Bizarrely the very same helicopter was damaged while parked on the Regional Health Rapid City Hospital helipad in South Dakota on 3 August 2020.  It was reported that a witness observed a car approaching the hospital helipad at 0340:

The driver revved the engine and sped onto the pad before striking the tail end of a Black Hills Life Flight helicopter and driving away.  Police found the suspect’s car a few minutes later thanks to a vehicle complaint. The car was driving on deflated tires along Sturgis Road.  The car had damage to its roof and windshield, and it was clear to police that this was consistent with the helicopter’s damage.

A 53-year-old male was arrested and later charged with: “driving under the influence (2nd), open container [of alcohol] in a motor vehicle, leaving the scene of an accident, and operating a vehicle on private property without permission”, but oddly not with damaging the air ambulance.

Safety Resources

Aerossurance will be running training workshops at the EHA European Rotors VTOL Show and Safety Conference in Cologne in November 2020 on a) Safety Culture and Leadership and b) Contracting Aviation Services: An Introduction to the Basics.

european rotors 2020


Aerossurance has extensive air safety, operations, SAR, HEMS, airworthiness, human factors, aviation regulation and safety analysis experience.  For practical aviation advice you can trust, contact us at: enquiries@aerossurance.com