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Free Content Pilot Domain Task Experience in Night Fatal Helicopter Emergency Medical Service Accidents

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INTRODUCTION: In the United States, accident and fatality rates in helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) operations increase significantly under nighttime environmentally hazardous operational conditions. Other studies have found pilots’ total flight hours unrelated to HEMS accident outcomes. Many factors affect pilots’ decision making, including their experience. This study seeks to investigate whether pilot domain task experience (DTE) in HEMS plays a role against likelihood of accidents at night when hazardous operational conditions are entered.

METHODS: There were 32 flights with single pilot nighttime fatal HEMS accidents between 1995 and 2013 with findings of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and loss of control (LCTRL) due to spatial disorientation (SD) identified. The HEMS DTE of the pilots were compared with industry survey data.

RESULTS: Of the pilots, 56% had ≤2 yr of HEMS experience and 9% had >10 yr of HEMS experience. There were 21 (66%) accidents that occurred in non-visual flight rules (VFR) conditions despite all flights being required to be conducted under VFR. There was a statistically significant increase in accident rates in pilots with <2 and <4 yr HEMS DTE and a statistically significant decrease in accident rates in pilots with >10 yr HEMS DTE.

CONCLUSION: HEMS DTE plays a preventive role against the likelihood of a night operational accident. Pilots with limited HEMS DTE are more likely to make a poor assessment of hazardous conditions at night, and this will place HEMS flight crew at high risk in the VFR night domain.

Aherne BB, Zhang C, Newman DG. Pilot domain task experience in night fatal helicopter emergency medical service accidents. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2016; 87(6):550–556.

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Keywords: HEMS; decision-making; expertise; risk; rotary wing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Aviation, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology, Swinburne University, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: June 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • This journal (formerly Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine), representing the members of the Aerospace Medical Association, is published monthly for those interested in aerospace medicine and human performance. It is devoted to serving and supporting all who explore, travel, work, or live in hazardous environments ranging from beneath the sea to the outermost reaches of space. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes notes on scientific news and technical items of interest to the general reader, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.

    To access volumes 74 through 85, please click here.
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