The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the recent medical helicopter crash that killed three crew members in Wisconsin. Although the cause of the crash is yet unknown, this and other accidents raise the question of how safe helicopter ambulances are. In the Associated Press article “Safety of Medical Helicopters Draws Scrutiny After Crash,” Dallas Managing Partner Ladd Sanger discussed what factors can result in a crash and why helicopter ambulances aren’t always the answer in a medical emergency.
One factor that can cause accidents is weather. Bad weather means that hospitals need to make several calls in search of a pilot willing to fly. Sanger noted that this results in pressure on providers and pilots to fly, because they want to be known as the go-to person and not the one that says ‘no.’
Although helicopters can be good alternatives for people that are seriously injured or very sick in remote areas to get to the hospital, Sanger explained that the vast majority of helicopter transports are not medically necessary. He said, “You would get to the hospital faster and way cheaper if you used a ground ambulance.”
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Although the safety record of commercial airlines has made flyers feel more secure, that reputation unfortunately doesn’t carry over to charter flights. In the Bottom Line Personal article “How to…Make Sure a Charter Airline is Safe,” Partner Ladd Sanger provides insight on how to assess whether a US-based charter flight is safe, especially in light of high accident rates and minimal government oversight.
“One way to reduce your risk on charter flights: Fly only in a twin-engine plane that has two pilots,” said Sanger. He explained that these planes with multi-pilots can typically land safely even if a problem occurs with the engine or pilot. Sanger also recommends opting for a twin-engine jet when possible, as charter-jet pilots are subjected to more rigorous training requirements.
According to Sanger other safety protocols include asking to see the operator’s Part 135 certificate, the operator’s facilities and a copy of their insurance declaration. He also recommended searching for any other certifications on Aviation Research Group or Wyvern’s websites.
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In interviews with Washington Post, Daily Business Review, Law360 and WFAA, Dallas Managing Partner Ladd Sanger discussed the recent Southwest Airlines engine failure and subsequent emergency landing that resulted in the death of one passenger. Twenty minutes in to the flight from LaGuardia Airport to Dallas, a metal fan blade broke off, causing the engine to explode and propelling debris into the plane. As a result, passenger Jennifer Riordan’s window shattered, and she was partially sucked out of the plane, resulting in her death from blunt force trauma to the head, neck and back.
The air pressure inside the airplane was likely about 11psi compared to about 4psi outside the aircraft flying at 33,000 feet. “When the window ruptures, you have those two pressure levels trying to equalize,” said Sanger. “The pressure inside the airplane is escaping out that hole to attempt to equalize, which is why it’s creating that suction and pulling from inside the aircraft. You think about the pressure differential. It’s about somewhere between six and eight times.”
Attorneys are already fielding calls from the passengers on the flight. Sanger continued, “They’re looking to see what their rights are. We suspect there are going to be claims by passengers against the airline and engine manufacturer.”
Read Washington Post article.
Read Daily Business Review article.
Read the Law360 article (subscription required)
Watch interview with WFAA.
In the aftermath of the engine failure on the Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, federal investigators are focusing on a broken metal fan which could signal a need for more inspections of metal fatigue of planes. USA Today interviewed Dallas Managing Partner Ladd Sanger to discuss the implications this incident could have on the way airlines inspect their planes.
Investigators are looking into one of the 24 fan blades that push air into the left engine of the 737-700 that broke off during the flight and forced the plane to make an emergency landing. Fatigue cracks were found on the inside of the broken fan blade, but it is too early to tell whether it might have resulted from a manufacturing flaw. In August 2016, Southwest Airlines had a similar engine failure incident raising concern about recurring problems with their inspection program. According to Sanger, airlines will need to re-evaluate their inspection programs to determine if engines should be examined more frequently.
“It appears that the containment mechanism needs to be re-evaluated and redesigned,” said Sanger. “When you get to two within a two-year period, as rigorous as the inspection and manufacturing processes are, you’re starting to talk about a pattern developing. It’s not only a pattern of blade failures, but a pattern of uncontained engine failures that shouldn’t happen in the first place.”
Sanger also points out that passengers may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome. “The takeaway for passengers is that this could be a harrowing event,” said Sanger. “You might want to think about getting some type of counseling for PTSD.”
Southwest Airlines Engine Failure Investigation Focuses on Broken Metal Fan Blade.
Southwest Airlines Pilots, Executives Reacted Well to Fatal Engine Failure, Experts Say.
One week after a Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) AS350 crashed into the East River in New York killing five passengers, CGTN America spoke with Partner Michael Slack about the series of accidents that’s putting the spotlight on sightseeing helicopter safety.
In particular, the safety of open-door helicopter tours has been the subject of scrutiny following the Liberty Helicopters Crash in New York’s East River on Sunday, March 11 and the announcement from the Federal Aviation Administration to temporarily ban open-door helicopter tours. Slack questions if passengers, who are allowed to fly without doors as long as they are harnessed, are being properly trained.
“If these completely unforgiving harnesses – that are almost impossible to get out of – are required in order to have open-cockpit flights, then safety almost demands that you don’t have open-cockpit flights,” said Slack. He also sheds light on the fact that tour operators are stretching themselves thin, attempting to maximize profits by working their pilots and equipment for long periods of time.
“Long hours mean fatigue for pilots, overutilization for the helicopters, and the unusual weather circumstances, that many times the pilots are not experienced with when they become pilots in a new area,” he said.
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