OKLAHOMA CITY – The crash of an Eagle Med helicopter that killed two and critically injured a third person has put the aerial life line industry in the forefront.
The NTSB estimates air ambulance operators carry 400,000 patients and organs nationwide every year.
Experts said air transport gives a much higher chance of survival than ground transport.
But the industry has been criticized by some, as too eager to fly, making unnecessary trips for patients who don’t require accelerated transport.
Now there is also a question of safety.
Dr. Michael Abernethy is among the nation’s most experienced flight physicians with more than two decades experience and several thousand patient transports.
He said he is behind the medical transport system.
“Believe me, I would not do it if it was not safe,” he said.
However, Dr. Abernethy admitted that the industry could use more regulation.
“You have one program flying $12.5 million, state-of-the-art helicopters and just down the road there may be another program using 25-year-old, refurbished, single-engine helicopters that are basically worth well under a million dollars,” he said.
Susan Cook from Air Methods, one of three Oklahoma air ambulance providers, said they recently invested over $100 million to improve its safety and technology.
“We have the newest aircraft available with the latest technology,” she said. “They’ve purchased 83 helicopters in three years just to continually modernize our fleet. We have night vision goggles, warning systems, satellite tracking and weather. It all goes into our aircraft to keep us as safe as possible.”
Officials with the FAA said they are working to make the industry even safer with “better training” and “improved technology.”
Despite the recent mishaps, experts insist an air ambulance is still the quickest and safest way to transport a patient to the hospital when seconds really count.