Ohio Medical Helicopter Crash Kills Three

Three people died when the air ambulance they were in crashed in Vinton County, Ohio, on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. The helicopter, owned by Survival Flight, was on its way from Mount Carmel Hospital in Grove City to Holzer Meigs Hospital in Pomeroy to pick up a patient when Survival Flight lost contact with the aircraft around 7:20 a.m. The brave men and women who work on air ambulances put their lives on the line repeatedly so they can save other people, but they are at an unacceptable risk of death given the high number of medevac helicopter crashes 

Bell 407 Helicopter Crashed in Remote Region 

The Bell 407 helicopter crashed into a remote area of Ohio approximately 75 miles southeast of Columbus. Logging roads connect the area, and it took authorities approximately three hours to find the wreckage. They finally located the crash site after pinging one of the victims' cellphones.   

"This is heartbreaking, especially when you have fellow first responders who are flying a mercy mission to help somebody else out," said Highway Patrol Lt. Robert Sellers.   

The wreckage was "highly fragmented" and spread across a quarter-mile in dense woods. A spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said there was no post-crash fire meaning data from the aircraft will likely be useable once the wreckage is removed.  

Victims of Survival Flight Medical Helicopter Crash Identified

Jennifer Topper, 34, the pilot
Bradley Haynes, 48, a flight nurse
Rachel Cunningham, 33, a flight nurse  

No other injuries or fatalities were reported in the crash.

Jennifer Topper's mother, Cherie Rader, told The Press Democrat that Topper loved flying and saving lives. The helicopter pilot joined the US Navy out of high school before becoming a rescue swimmer in search and rescue operations. Before working for Mount Carmel, Topper flew tours in the Grand Canyon and worked for Survival Flight in Oklahoma.

"She was an awesome pilot," Rader said. "Heart attack victims. Gunshot victims. She saved many a life up there in Ohio."   

Survival Flight Issues Statement on Helicopter Crash

Survival Flight, which owns the Bell 407 involved in the Ohio medical helicopter crash, issued a statement in which Andy Arthurs, Survival Flight vice president of EMS services, said he was deeply saddened about the "heartbreaking event," and noted that the Survival Flight team was devastated. Arthurs also said he had no specific information about what caused the crash.  

Meanwhile, Michael Wilkins, president of Mount Carmel East, said the hospital's prayers were with the crewmembers' families and the Survival Flight team.  

NTSB Investigating Ohio Medical Helicopter Crash 

The NTSB is investigating what might have caused the helicopter crash, but a path will have to be cleared first so officials can remove the wreckage from the rugged landscape. Investigators also said the cold, windy weather would affect the recovery time.

The people who fly in air ambulances do so to save other people's lives, but all too often their lives are at risk. On Nov. 18 an air ambulance crash, this one in North Dakota, also took three lives when the 1982 Cessna 441 turboprop they were in broke up in-flight at about 14,000 feet and crashed into an open field after entering a steep right bank. That air ambulance was also on its way to pick up a patient—this time a neonatal patient—at around 10:30 p.m.

All three victims—pilot Todd Lasky, nurse Bonnie Cook, and paramedic Chris Iverson—died from blunt force trauma injuries. The NTSB is investigating that crash as well but so far has said nothing collided with the plane before it crashed and it did not experience a fire.

According to federal records, there were four air ambulance helicopter crashes in the US in 2018, causing three deaths, while the prior year saw six crashes with seven fatalities.  

Of some concern is that the air ambulance crew could feel pressured to fly in poor weather conditions because of the life-saving nature of their job. NBC News reports that MedFlight turned down a request to transfer a patient from the Holzer-Meigs Emergency Room because weather conditions did not meet MedFlight's minimum standards for flying.

Survival Flight in Ohio agreed to pick up a patient from the same hospital, but the medical helicopter crashed about three-fourths of the way there.  Each air ambulance service has its own policies regarding what weather they will fly in and when they will turn down flights.