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Monday, September 28, 2009

Fatal HEMS Crash in South Carolina

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the fatal crash of a emergency medical service (EMS) helicopter near Georgetown, SC Sept. 25.

The Eurocopter AS-350 B2 (N417AE) helicopter EMS (HEMS) crashed at about 11:30 p.m. ET during a positioning flight after dropping off a patient in Charleston about two hours earlier.  All three people on board, the pilot, flight nurse and paramedic, were fatally injured.

NTSB Investigator Todd Gunther has been designated Investigator-in-Charge and will lead the accident probe. NTSB Board Member Robert Sumwalt will serve as principal spokesman during the on-scene investigation.

The helicopter was owned and operated by Omniflight. In a statement, the company confirmed that the Eurocopter took off from Charleston around 11 p.m. Friday and was headed to Conway, a city about 50 miles north of Georgetown. Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen says the pilot last radioed air traffic control at 11:05 p.m., saying the crew was about four miles from an airport near Charleston and had it in sight.

A thunderstorm moved through the area shortly before the crash, according to the National Weather Service. Authorities have not said if weather conditions contributed to the accident.

"Omniflight is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of its crewmembers and wishes to express its deepest regrets and sincerest condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives," the company said.

Earlier this month, NTSB officials urged the government to impose stricter controls on emergency helicopter operators citing last year's record number of fatalities. There were nine accidents between December 2007 and October 2008, killing 35 people. There have been three accidents since then, but no fatalities reported until the South Carolina crash.

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