The Wall Street Journal has listed the air ambulance as the most dangerous job in America. How is it that a business which is supposed to be all about saving lives, is in fact costing medical workers and patients their lives? In 2008 alone; there were 13 accidents and 29 fatalities in the air ambulance business.
The air ambulance is supposed to be a system for extremely critical rescue situations where time is of the essence to get the patient treatment. This system is not designed for twisted ankles, which in fact the air ambulance has been sent up for just that. The medical staff at many hospitals has no choice in whether to go along on an air ambulance flight or not. They either go or they can lose their jobs.
The world’s largest air ambulance service Air Methods Corporation, has 330 aircraft that fly more than 10,000 hours a month. Air methods is a publicly traded company which means the choice between profit and safety is always at risk to the whims of Wall Street.
This is also the situation with many hospitals it’s all about the money. If air ambulance service has become less service and more big business how can we be sure that the real emergency situations will have the necessary air ambulance service and that the specialized team and equipment won’t be off somewhere wrapping a sprain?
What is being done to alleviate the risks involved in air ambulance service? Are the pilots and teams receiving proper training and equipment? Do they have any sort of system to decide what qualifies as a critical situation? There needs to be comprehensive oversights of this business to make sure that the people who need air ambulance service receive the service they need, and that the air ambulance crew is safe.
In May of 2008 after transport of a patient to a hospital in La Crosse Wisconsin, a routine medical helicopter flight crashed and caused the death of Dr. Darren Bean, the flight nurse and the pilot. The helicopter was not equipped with a terrain warning system or night vision goggles. Weather reports indicated light rain and fog; other medical helicopter crews had refused flights in the area that day. There have been questions raised about the pilot’s certification, and the lack of equipment on the helicopter. After all, emergencies don’t always happen when the skies are clear and visibility is wonderful. Yet nearly 2 years later, there has been no announcement by the NTSB as to their conclusion of this accident. Don’t the families of those lost in this accident deserve to know what really caused the deaths of their loved ones?
Attorney Peter Cathcart represented the Bean family in their case against Air Methods. “Although the FAA does not mandate that safety features such as night vision goggles and terrain warning devices be used, why do helicopter owners/operators refuse to give their pilots every opportunity to avoid an accident?”
In a sad and bizarre co-incidence Cathcart’s father also represented the Bean family after Darren’s Bean’s father was killed in the crash of a Beechcraft Queen Air 35 years earlier. Darren’s mother had become a family friend during the first tragedy and it was quite a shock to the Cathcart family when Mrs. Bean contacted them about Darren’s accident.
“It was deja vu. How could tragedy strike a family a second time in the same manner? I truly hope that my friendship with Stacey lives well beyond the attorney-client relationship.”
The law firm of Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy has been a pioneer in the investigation of aircraft accidents and prosecution of aviation lawsuits and was able to bring about a resolution for the Bean family without court proceedings.
Dr. Bean’s widow Stacey was also a doctor who has since left her job as an ER doctor and claims that part of that decision is because “I don’t think I could in good conscience call for a helicopter for a patient”. Stacey Bean now sells personal care and wellness products.