Care Flight Steps Up to Recommendations - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Care Flight Steps Up to Recommendations

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John Potter

Channel 2 News

In some parts of the U.S., riding in a medical helicopter is the most dangerous flight you can take. Too many have died in the copters that were meant to save them...24 so far this year. Care Flight's precautions? Their vice president, Margaret Tole says "When we decide to take a flight, it's decided by the pilot whether it's safe to take it. Then each medical crew person independently decides if the weather's appropriate, whether the aircraft's appropriate, whether the equipment's appropriate...and they decide. Any of them can cancel the flight" But crashes happen in good weather and bad, both day and night. Last November, 3 crew members from a Susanville medical helicopter were killed 29 miles northwest of Reno after a patient drop-off at Renown. The problem isn't often the helicopter…it's the job it's given. EMS pilots have little time to prepare for missions. They land in areas not designed for helicopters, usually dodging trees and buildings, and power lines they may not know are there. So, the NTSB is asking for terrain avoidance and autopilot computers, and night-vision goggles. Care Flight has 2 out of 3. Maggie Tole says "Currently the FAA has not approved any autopilot controls for our particular aircraft. It's an A-Star. We do not have them, because it's not available to us."

The FAA makes the rules. The NTSB only has the authority to make recommendations. She said Care Flight already has the recommended terrain avoidance computer. We asked a pilot to show us, and saw how the screen goes yellow, then red when terrain is coming. It's accurate enough to detect power lines, a frequent cause of medical helicopter crashes. Care Flight pilot Dean Mischke also showed us the night vision goggles. Other hospitals are hesitating on these safety recommendations. It's a matter of money. As Dean told us, "One set of these night vision goggles are $10-12,000. Then to re-configurate the cockpit...that costs upward of $100-200,000, depending on the aircraft." Many say that's too expensive…unless it's their life on the line.

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