Oklahoma Crash Places Helicopters Under New Scrutiny

By TIM TALLEY | June 14, 2013

A commission that evaluates medical transport services is placing its accreditation of a Kansas-based company under new scrutiny following the third deadly crash of one of its medical helicopters in Oklahoma since 2010, the commission’s executive director said Wednesday.

The latest crash of an EagleMed LLC helicopter occurred Tuesday night near the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center in Talihina in southeastern Oklahoma. Janet Sharp, spokeswoman for the health care center, said a patient who was being transported to a medical facility in Tulsa died, but it was uncertain whether the death was due to the crash or a previous medical condition.

Sharp said the helicopter’s flight nurse was transported to a Tulsa hospital following the crash and was listed in stable condition. The pilot and a medic suffered minor injuries and have been released, she said. She did not identify any of the helicopter’s occupants.

Eileen Frazer, executive director of the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems, said EagleMed’s accreditation by the agency will be reviewed following the crash, meaning that further action could be taken against the company pending the results of an investigation.

“We will look for trends, especially in this unusual circumstance,” Frazer said.

Tuesday’s crash occurred less than four months after an EagleMed helicopter crash-landed outside an Oklahoma City nursing home early on Feb. 22, killing two people onboard and critically injuring a third. Another EagleMed helicopter crashed into a field near Kingfisher on July 22, 2010, killing the pilot and nurse and seriously injuring a paramedic. No patients were on board.

Frazer said the company, based in Wichita, Kan., had just received its three-year accreditation when the February crash occurred. The accreditation process included an analysis of maintenance records of all its aircraft and crew, including pilots.

The latest crash will require members of the independent, non-profit group to make a supplemental visit to the company to gather more information.

“We will have to go out there again,” Frazer said.

Frazer said no decision will be made on the future of EagleMed’s accreditation and operations until the organization has a chance to review the final reports of investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies.

“We don’t jump to conclusions. We would have to look at NTSB reports before we see any trending,” she said.

A spokesman for EagleMed, Robbie Copeland, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

The helicopter involved in Tuesday’s crash came down about 20 yards from the health care center as it was taking off about 7 p.m., Sharp said.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration were at the scene Tuesday, spokesman Tony Molinaro said. Molinaro said the cause of the crash was not immediately known.

“We’ll be gathering all types of information on the accident,” he said. Information collected by FAA investigators will be turned over to the NTSB, he said.

An NTSB spokesman, Keith Holloway, said investigators will focus on the cause of Tuesday’s accident and try to determine if there are common elements with the previous crashes.

“It takes a while before we determine the cause of an accident,” Holloway said. “We don’t look at the company, we look at issues. If there is something that reveals itself, we’ll look at it.”

An NTSB report released in May said the pilot of the EagleMed helicopter that crashed in 2010 was pretending to hunt coyotes when his aircraft struck a tree and plummeted to the ground.

The report also said the pilot was being treated for several medical conditions and had been prescribed multiple medications since at least 2007, when he told his personal physician he had bronchitis, hypertension and sleep apnea. It says the pilot was never treated for his sleep apnea and had not reported any of his medical conditions and prescription medications to the FAA.

The report did not pinpoint the specific cause of the crash.

FAA records indicate the helicopter was manufactured by American Eurocopter Corp. of Grand Prairie, Texas, and received its operational certificate on Aug. 31.

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