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.
The Accident and Investigation
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.
The flight paramedic was thrown to the ground during the collision. The main rotor blades, tail boom, and fuselage sustained substantial damage.
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.
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.
You may also find these Aerossurance articles of interest:
- S-92A Collision with Obstacle while Taxying
- Ground Collision Under Pressure: Challenger vs ATV: 1-0
- Survival Flight Fatal Accident: Air Ambulance Operator’s Poor Safety Culture
- That Others May Live – Inadvertent IMC & The Value of Flight Data Monitoring
- Life Flight 6 – US HEMS Post Accident Review
- More US Night HEMS Accidents
- US HEMS “Delays & Oversight Challenges” – IG Report
- Crashworthiness and a Fiery Frisco US HEMS Accident
- HEMS S-76C Night Approach LOC-I Incident
- US HEMS Accident Rates 2006-2015
- HEMS A109S Night Loss of Control Inflight
- US Fatal Night HEMS Accident: Self-Induced Pressure & Inadequate Oversight
- HEMS Black Hole Accident: “Organisational, Regulatory and Oversight Deficiencies”
- Taiwan NASC UH-60M Night Medevac Helicopter Take Off Accident
- Italian HEMS AW139 Inadvertent IMC Accident
- Norwegian HEMS Landing Wirestrike (Norsk Luftambulanse EC135P2+ LN-OOI)
- EC135P2 Spatial Disorientation Accident
- US HEMS EC135P1 Dual Engine Failure: 7 July 2018
- BK117B2 Air Ambulance Flameout: Fuel Transfer Pumps OFF, Caution Lights Invisible in NVG Modified Cockpit
- UPDATE 8 September 2020: Air Ambulance Helicopter Downed by Fencing FOD
- UPDATE 20 September 2020: Hanging on the Telephone… HEMS Wirestrike
- UPDATE 26 September 2020: Fatal Fatigue: US Night Air Ambulance Helicopter LOC-I Accident
- UPDATE 19 December 2020: Helicopter Destroyed in Hover Taxi Accident
- UPDATE 23 January 2021: US Air Ambulance Near Miss with Zip Wire and High ROD Impact at High Density Altitude
- UPDATE 31 January 2021: Fatal US Helicopter Air Ambulance Accident: One Engine was Failing but Serviceable Engine Shutdown
- UPDATE 13 March 2021: S-76A++ Rotor Brake Fire
Aerossurance was to have run 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. Sadly the show has been postponed due to COVID-19.