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Free Content Pilot Decision Making in Weather-Related Night Fatal Helicopter Emergency Medical Service Accidents

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INTRODUCTION: In the United States, between 1995 and 2013, night-time visual flight rules (VFR) Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) fatal accidents mostly encountered adverse weather, and pilots with <6 yr of HEMS experience showed higher likelihood of a night operational accident. One adverse weather indicator is cloud-ceiling likelihood indicated by temperature dew point spread (TDPS). This study investigated the relationship between TDPS and HEMS pilot years of experience. It was hypothesized pilots with <6 yr HEMS experience were associated with fatal outcomes encountered at lower TDPS.

METHODS: Between 1995 and 2013, 32 single pilot night VFR HEMS fatal accidents occurring in the United States, caused by controlled flight into terrain or loss of control, were analyzed. Using Federal Aviation Administration weather guidance, the 0–4°C TDPS was selected as an indicator of cloud ceiling. Each flight’s TDPS was analyzed with pilots’ HEMS domain task experience.

RESULTS: There were 27 flights which entered the 0–4°C TDPS range; 20 (74%) were significantly associated with adverse weather. A significant negative linear relationship was found between TDPS of each mission and years of pilot HEMS experience (r = −0.423, P = 0.028). Pilots with <6 yr of experience were significantly associated with fatal outcomes (P = 0.049).

CONCLUSION: Pilots’ incremental years of HEMS experience were associated with a TDPS decrement. Fatal outcomes were over nine times higher for pilots with <6 yr of HEMS experience in night VFR operational accidents in those conditions. Interventions for <6-yr pilots are recommended during experience building to prevent likelihood of operational accidents.

Aherne BB, Zhang C, Chen WS, Newman DG. Pilot decision making in weather-related night fatal helicopter emergency medical service accidents. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2018; 89(9):830–836.
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Keywords: air medical; darkness; expert; instrument proficiency; nighttime visual flight rules; risk

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2018

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  • 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.

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