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
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.
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.
The European Safety Promotion Network Rotorcraft (ESPN-R) has a helicopter safety discussion group on LinkedIn.
Guidance on “Welcoming Helicopters” at emergency sites (in English and French).
UPDATE 20 October 2021: A LifeFlight helicopter that was damaged on 18 October when it was struck by a slow-moving ambulance in Maine, US, could return to service by 20 October
UPDATE 25 October 2021: Another HEMS/vehicle collision, which occurred to SAME MBB Bo 105CBS-4 LV-CVE at a toll plaza in Argentina on 23 April 2021, was captured on video:
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