Both Fla. county trauma helicopters out of service

Palm Beach County's two Trauma Hawk air ambulances have temporarily been grounded and a spokeswoman said the hospital district was working to finalize a lease for a substitute air ambulance


Julius Whigham II
The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

Palm Beach County's two Trauma Hawk air ambulances have temporarily been grounded, with one being removed from service this week for a federally mandated inspection while the other is still awaiting repair after a mishap that happened in August. 

A Palm Beach County Health Care District spokeswoman said Friday that it was working to finalize a lease for a substitute air ambulance.

Gerry Pagano, director of aviation operations, at the Trauma Hawk Aeromedical Hangar at Palm Beach International Airport on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo/MCT)
Gerry Pagano, director of aviation operations, at the Trauma Hawk Aeromedical Hangar at Palm Beach International Airport on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo/MCT)

"While it is not uncommon for aeromedical aircraft to be out of service during periods of maintenance and inspection, this is a rare occurrence for the Health Care District,” the district said in a statement.  “We are doing all we can to minimize the time our program is without a helicopter in service as it is a top priority for the Health Care District to continue safe, rapid aeromedical transport for traumatically injured patients in Palm Beach County.”

The district said that one of its two Sikorsky S-76 C+ helicopters, Trauma Hawk 1, will be unavailable for about two weeks as it receives an annual inspection required by the Federal Aviation Administration. The inspection process began Wednesday. 

The district's other aircraft, Trauma Hawk 2, was damaged in an incident that occurred Aug. 25 at the Aeromedical Hangar at Palm Beach International Airport. The aircraft was parked at the hangar that afternoon following a maintenance flight when an issue arose with its landing gear, the district said. While at a complete stop, with the engine off and the rotors coasting to a stop, the right landing gear failed, causing the helicopter to tilt. 

The district said the aircraft will remain out of service for an extended period, pending repair. 

The Sikorsky helicopters have been in use by the Health Care District since 1999. Each year, the aircraft transport hundreds in need of critical care to the county's trauma hospitals, St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach and Delray Medical Center.  

The aircraft can transport a trauma patient from Belle Glade to St. Mary's in less than 20 minutes, a trip that would take more than an hour for an ambulance. 

Palm Beach County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Tara Cardoso said the agency has a contingency plan to coordinate with other counties for air ambulance services. If an air transport is deemed medically necessary, firefighter-paramedics will request mutual aid aircraft from either Martin County or Broward County, she said.

"There will be no delay in treatment," Cardoso said. "Our medical personnel begin medical intervention immediately when arriving on scene and continue treatment while en route to the appropriate facility, by ground or by air."

Cardoso said Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade can be utilized for critically injured patients in the Glades communities, if necessary.

The Trauma Hawk rescue flights include a firefighter-nurse and firefighter-paramedic provided by Fire Rescue. Those employees will temporarily be integrated back into the field, Cardoso said.

The Health Care District said this year that it plans to replace the Sikorsky helicopters with two new aircraft by 2022.

It signed a $22.7 million contract with Leonardo, an aerospace, defense and security company headquartered in Rome, for the purchase and manufacture of two light-intermediate AgustaWestland AW169 helicopters. 

It is anticipated that the new helicopters will be available by the summer of 2022.

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©2020 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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