Concerns about the Latest EagleMed Helicopter Crash

The McAlester News-Capital story below describes some sad and troubling news. On Tuesday evening, June 11, 2013, a medical helicopter operated by Air Medical Holding Group of Dallas, Texas, under the name EagleMed, crashed in the parking lot of the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center hospital in Talihina in southeastern Oklahoma, killing one patient and injuring three crew members on board. The cause of the accident is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Now additional concerns have been raised about the hospital’s potential liability. The hospital could be potentially liable for this crash because they were on notice that EagleMed was a dangerous helicopter operator.

This case has many similarities to the Talbott case that my partner Michael Slack tried a few years ago in New Mexico, in which the jury found the hospital liable for more than $3,000,000 because it continued to use a helicopter operator that was unsafe.

In addition, the Talihina hospital faces liability for the dangerous condition created by poles in close proximity to the helipad.  Based on our investigation, the hospital had received complaints about the poles from helicopter pilots, but had only removed one pole rather than relocate the helipad or eliminate all poles that posed a hazard.

Michael Slack and I have handled dozens of air ambulance crash cases. In fact, we currently represent the family of a deceased passenger in the fatal crash of an EagleMed helicopter that occurred on February 22, 2013, in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.

When you have this many fatal air ambulance crashes over a short period of time, it’s indicative of a very serious problem.

Our concerns about Tuesday’s crash include:

  • The root cause of the crash, which may include first responder mentality, weather, operation, mechanical issues, competitive issues, etc.
  • The disturbing safety record of EagleMed and its holding company
  • The significance of the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS) putting EagleMed’s certification on hold
  • Why Choctaw Nation Health Care Center didn’t terminate its arrangement with EagleMed after prior EagleMed crashes and safety concerns
  • The history of EagleMed’s Safety Department turnover and the significance of EagleMed’s employees being subjected to reprimands for canceling trips for valid safety reasons
  • Recent NTSB reports on similar crashes and what action needs to be taken to prevent repeat scenarios

For more information, please contact Ladd Sanger or Michael Slack.


Investigators on scene at Talihina after medical helicopter from McAlester crashes
by James Beaty, Senior Editor, McAlester News-Capital

McALESTER — A patient picked up by an EagleMed helicopter dispatched from McAlester died Tuesday night after the helicopter crashed soon after takeoff at the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center in Talihina.

A flight nurse aboard the flight was listed in critical condition early Wednesday, according to information from the Choctaw Nation Health Services and EagleMed.

A paramedic and the pilot who were also on board the helicopter were treated and released, according to EagleMed.

Names of the deceased person as well as the injured flight nurse were still being withheld as of early Wednesday.

The man who died was 49 years old and from the local area, according to David Wharton, public information officer for the Choctaw Nation Health Services, who was on the scene at the Talihina hospital early Wednesday.

The crash occurred around 6:30 Tuesday night, said Brandy Griffin, a public information officer at the hospital.

McAlester Regional Health Center Chief Executive Officer David Keith confirmed that the helicopter had been dispatched from McAlester hospital.

The crash occurred after the patient had been placed on board in Talihina for transport to a hospital in Tulsa, according to Wharton.

“It happened upon take-off,” Wharton said. The helicopter crashed “literally yards from our emergency department,” he said.

“We were on the scene immediately,” Wharton said. “We enacted our disaster policy.”

Two of the injured were able to get out of the crashed helicopter with minimal assistance,” Wharton said. It took more of an effort to get the injured nurse and the patient extracted from the helicopter.

The patient was pronounced dead at the hospital, according to Wharton.

The Federal Aviation Administration had personnel at the Choctaw Nation hospital in Talihina early Wednesday and personnel from the National Transportation Safety Board were also enroute to help with the investigation.

Meanwhile, several who were at the scene, who did not want to be publicly identified, said it appeared that the helicopter hit a light pole in the parking lot upon takeoff. One witness said it looked like a gust of wind pushed the helicopter into the pole. That could not be independently confirmed by press time.

Wilburton Fire Chief David Donoley joined those rushing to the site of the crash. He praised the Talihina Fire Department for having the scene contained, but firefighters faced another problem.

“We stayed on the scene because of leaking jet fuel,” Donoley said. “Our main concern was ignition of jet fuel and the explosion that would follow.”

Firefighters literally dammed some of the jet fuel to keep it from spreading further.

“We had to contain that until the HAZMAT team got there,” Donoley said. Fortunately for those at the site, no explosion occurred because of the leaking jet fuel.

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