NTSB report confirms concerns before medical helicopter crash

The report on the Ohio crash that killed three in January said employees felt pressured to take flights despite dangerous weather conditions


Bethany Bruner
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new report from the National Transportation Safety Board confirms that there were concerns within a medical helicopter company prior to a deadly helicopter crash in January.

The 53-page report indicates that multiple employees of Viking Aviation, which oversaw Survival Flight, had expressed concern about the company pressuring pilots to take flights.

Three members of a medical flight were killed when the helicopter crashed on its way to pick up a patient in southeastern Ohio on Jan. 29. Employees had previously had concerns about being told to take flights in dangerous weather conditions, a new NTSB report reveals. (Photo/Ohio State Highway Patrol)
Three members of a medical flight were killed when the helicopter crashed on its way to pick up a patient in southeastern Ohio on Jan. 29. Employees had previously had concerns about being told to take flights in dangerous weather conditions, a new NTSB report reveals. (Photo/Ohio State Highway Patrol)

One employee told NTSB investigators they felt like they were not able to ever go out of service, which they called going "red."

"The problem I've always had with it is that operations control won't allow us to go red on weather, which even last night, I made the statement, I made the statement, well, I'm red, but you won't let me. I'll be amber, because, you know, half the United States was down for weather. But we're not allowed to be red. They won't accept it," the employee said.

Survival Flight accepted a flight on Jan. 29 to pick up a patient in Pomeroy, along the Ohio Rivers in Meigs County. The flight left from Mount Carmel Grove City and crashed shortly before 7 a.m. in rural Vinton County.

Killed in the flight were pilot Jennifer L. Topper, 34, of Sunbury; and flight nurses Bradley J. Haynes, 48, of London and Rachel L. Cunningham, 33, of the Far West Side.

Two other medical helicopter companies had turned down the flight due to weather conditions, The Dispatch reported in February.

The NTSB confirmed this and also confirmed the existence of a flyer sent to hospitals, advertising that Survival Flight would take flights other companies declined.

The report also indicated that employees felt pressured to take flights by upper management within Survival Flight.

"Numerous pilots and medical crew indicated incidents where they were the recipient of or witnessed a pilot being reprimanded or challenged for declining a flight," the report said. "One medical crew member said, 'The chief pilot of the company ... would call within about 10 minutes and would cuss out our pilots and belittle them, ... saying, ... we need to take these flights,.... he would yell so loud on the phone that you could hear it, ... just standing within earshot.' He continued to say that the chief pilot told the pilot that if the base failed, it would be his fault because he was turning down flights."

The Dispatch contacted Survival Flight for comment Tuesday. No one was immediately available for comment.

A final report by the NTSB into the crash has not yet been completed. The investigation into the helicopter crash remains ongoing.

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©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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