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Preflight Risk Assessment for Improved Safety in Helicopter Emergency Medical Service Operations

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INTRODUCTION: Adverse weather and poor visual cues are common elements in night-time Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) operations contributing to spatial disorientation and fatal accidents. Pilots are required to make weather-related preflight risk assessments to accept or reject a flight. This study’s aim was to develop predictive risk assessment tools based on historical accident data to assist the decision-making process.

METHODS: We analyzed 32 single-pilot HEMS night-time visual flight rules fatal accidents to identify contributory risk factors. Logistic regression analysis was used to develop prediction nomograms for nonvisual meteorological conditions (non-VMC), cause and nonsurvivable accidents as dependent variables. Risk factors such as temperature dew point spread, elevation difference, and years of HEMS pilot experience, were entered as continuous variables. Flight crew composition, pilot DTE (domain task experience) and flight rule capability, primary missions, and temperature dew point spread were entered as categorical variables. A point scoring matrix transposed model probability to likelihood and consequence severity.

RESULTS: The nomograms correctly predicted the likelihood of entering non-VMC, accident cause, and sustaining a nonsurvivable accident in 75%, 55%, and 94% of cases, respectively. Using data from a recent nonsurvivable HEMS accident, the nomogram estimated a 92% probability (Very Likely) of nonsurvivable accident if visual cues were lost.

CONCLUSION: These nomograms can provide preflight information to predict the likelihood of adverse safety outcomes occurring during a planned HEMS mission. While further development work is needed, this approach has the potential to improve HEMS operational safety.

Aherne BB, Zhang C, Chen WS, Newman DG. Preflight risk assessment for improved safety in Helicopter Emergency Medical Service operations. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2019; 90(9):792–799.
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Keywords: air medical; darkness; fatalities; instrument proficiency; risk

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2019

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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