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Loss of Consciousness During Single Sling Helicopter Hoist Rescue Resulting in a Fatal Fall

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INTRODUCTION: Although harness suspension trauma has been documented since the 1960s, especially in the mountaineering setting, there is little robust medical research into the area. Helicopter hoist rescue shares similar risks and is reserved for those cases that cannot be accessed safely by other routes, where extrication may be hazardous or will take an unreasonable amount of time. The single sling or chest harness used for hoist rescue is a single harness around the upper torso and is easier and quicker to apply than a stretcher. However, the risks of a chest harness need to be balanced against the patient’s condition, the environment, aircraft performance, and the urgency of the rescue.

CASE REPORT: We report an adult male falling 80 ft to his death while being hoisted into a rescue helicopter for a likely fractured ankle. A single rescue sling harness technique was used, but the patient became unconscious, slipped out of the harness, and fell. He had significant comorbidities, including cardiomyopathy, obstructive sleep apnea, morbid obesity, and diabetes.

DISCUSSION: A decrease in cardiac output secondary to thoracic compression was the presumed cause for his loss of consciousness and the potential physiological mechanisms and modifying factors are discussed. Further research into harness suspension trauma is required. Stretcher, double point harnesses, or rescue baskets are likely safer methods of hoisting, especially in a medically compromised patient.

Biles J, Garner AA. Loss of consciousness during single sling helicopter hoist rescue resulting in a fatal fall. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2016; 87(9):821–824.
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Keywords: chest harness; double sling harness; helicopter rescue; hoisting; orthostatic shock; sling harness; venous pooling

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: CareFlight, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Publication date: September 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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