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NTSB urges steps to prevent air ambulance crashes
The National Transportation Safety Board issued stringent safety recommendations for air ambulances Wednesday, after investigating 55 crashes that killed 54 people and seriously injured 19 others between 2002 and 2005.
Included in the NTSB's inquiry, which focused on the crashes of 41 helicopters and 14-fixed wing aircraft, was the fatal flight of a Colorado air ambulance company in which a crew of three died in early 2005.
The number of crashes, fatalities and injuries "clued us in that there were safety issues" and led to the recommendations, said Lauren Peduzzi, spokeswoman for the NTSB.
The recommendations, made to the Federal Aviation Administration which is the rule-making agency, include:
* Impose the same safety rules for flights going to pick up patients as those with patients on aboard.
The NTSB said that 35 of the 55 accidents reviewed involved flights with no patients on board, including the Steamboat Springs-based Yampa Valley Air Ambulance crash near Rawlins, Wyo., on Jan. 11, 2005.
* Require that air ambulance operators have risk-evaluation procedures that assess weather, geography, aircraft safety and pilot fatigue before every flight.
The NTSB said the formal risk procedures might have prevented 13 of the 55 accidents, including the Yampa Valley Air Ambulance crash.
* Require flight-dispatch rules for operators that include updated weather information for pilots, aircraft tracking and arrival notification.
Those dispatch rules might have prevented 11 of the 55 accidents, including the Rawlins flight, which ran into heavy snows and crashed into a ridge 2 1/2 miles from the runway's end.
* Require that helicopter air ambulances have Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems. The NTSB said that the warning systems could have prevented 17 of the 55 accidents.
The FAA already requires the warning systems on turbine-powered airplanes with six passengers.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that the Federal Aviation Administration require air ambulance operators to:
* Impose the same safety regulations for flights with patients and those without patients.
* Create and follow a flight-risk evaluation program.
* Implement dispatch operations that include up-to-date weather for pilots and flight tracking.
* Install Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems on all aircraft and train personnel to use the equipment.