Air-care safety concerns - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Air-care safety concerns

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) - The National Transportation Safety Board is examining the increase in med-evac helicopter crashes.

Last year, 13 med-evac helicopters crashed, killing a total of 29 people, making 2008 the deadliest on record.

But the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics haven't had one crash with its air care flights, which average about 3 every day. Flight Nurse Diane Lamb says staying safe in her job means a strong bond of trust between all members of the flight crew. 

"All of the medical crew members, pilots and mechanics work together very closely," she told us.

She says having that tightly-knit flight team comes hand-in-hand with safety, which is Air Methods pilot Bob Hartman's top priority. He's in his fourth decade of flying helicopters.

"I served in Vietnam," he told us, "so of course, there you're operating under combat conditions."

Hartman says in all of his years flying med-evac helicopters, he hasn't encountered hardly any dangerous situations. But, he attributes much of that to keeping a very close eye on the weather, and completing a rigorous safety check before each flight.

That involves running through a checklist of preparations, such as looking at fuel supply for the aircraft, and oxygen supply for the patient. He also keeps a sharp eye out for storms that sometimes develop out of nowhere. Even if the weather is acting up slightly, Hartman says sometimes he'll cancel a flight.

We asked Hartman and Lamb if the increase in med-evac crashes in the last ten years worries them.

Both replied 'no,' due to a combination of regular safety training and flight experience.

"It doesn't make us more fearful," said Lamb, "but what we learn, and what can we do to just make our operations as safe as they can possibly be."

She reminded us that flying medical helicopters is a business, and that the push to make a profit may be to blame for unecessary or dangerous flights.

"Any flying has risks," Hartman said. "You just have to manage those risks."

Online Reporter - Brady Smith

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