Pilot of medical helicopter becomes unresponsive while in flight

Looking back at a story from January, 2019

Bell 206L-4 Long Ranger
File photo of an example of a Bell 206L-4 Long Ranger, operated by CTV in BC. Photo by Marek Wozniak. (This is not the helicopter in the story)

Wildland firefighters on large incidents commonly fly in helicopters, many of them with a single pilot. It is possible that some of those passengers may have thought about what would happen if the pilot was suddenly incapacitated due to a medical event or being struck by a bird or drone. The most-read story on Vertical magazine’s website in 2019 was about just that.

Elan HeadA Bell 206 LongRanger had just lifted off after loading a patient when the pilot became unresponsive. The story covers what happened during the flight and importantly, the long term effects.

It is an excellent article written by Elan Head, a helicopter pilot. Here is how it begins:

“Where are we going?”

It was Jan. 12, 2018. The Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter had just lifted from a scene call near its base in Kinder, Louisiana, north of Interstate 10 between Lake Charles and Lafayette. The patient was a frail, elderly woman who had been sedated and intubated on scene.

In the back of the Bell 206L LongRanger, flight nurse Tara Coupel and flight paramedic Lane Abshire were attending to the patient when the pilot’s voice came over the intercom: “Where are we going?”

“Lafayette General,” Abshire replied, referring to Lafayette General Medical Center, around 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the southeast.

“OK, where?” the pilot asked.

Abshire and Coupel thought at first that there was a problem with the intercom system. They unplugged their helmet cords and plugged them back in; tried telling the pilot again. But he repeated, “OK, where?”

The helicopter was now about 800 feet over the ground. Abshire asked Coupel to get out of her seat and tell the pilot where they were headed. She unbuckled her seatbelt, removed her helmet, and moved forward to tap on the pilot’s shoulder.

“Lafayette General!” she shouted at him. Although she was disconnected from the intercom, she could see him mouthing the words beneath his mic boom, “OK, where?”

After you read the full article, here is a link to a follow-up story about the incident: How Air Evac Lifeteam is helping crews prepare for a pilot incapacitation event

Three helicopters and one air tanker available for the Cold Fire

The Incident Commander ordered two large air tankers but only one was available.

bell 204L4 Custer Airport

Above: a Sky Aviation Bell 206L4 (N482TJ) lands at Custer Airport near a Central Copters K-MAX (N115).

On Saturday when the Cold Fire started 8 miles southeast of Custer, South Dakota, no firefighting aircraft were available. The Incident Commander requested an air attack platform, two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters, two large air tankers, and one light helicopter. Sunday a P2V departed Chattanooga, Tennessee and most likely cruised at about 200 mph until it arrived in Rapid City at about 3 p.m.

ch-47d chinook billings flying service
One of Billings Flying Service’s CH-47D Chinooks, at Custer Airport, April 3, 2016.

The P2V was not used Sunday, in part because the winds were too strong and turbulent. Two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters dropped water Sunday morning. Three privately owned contracted helicopters became available at the Custer Airport: one K-MAX (Central Copters), one CH-47D Chinook (Billings Flying Service), and a Bell 206L4 (Sky Aviation), but only the 206L4 was used. It dropped numerous loads of water Sunday afternoon while we were there.

Chinook Custer airport
One of Billings Flying Service’s CH-47D Chinooks (N561AJ), at Custer Airport, April 3, 2016.

We wrote about the Billings Flying Service Chinooks in 2014 when they became the first civilian operator to obtain CH-47Ds. Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, and another pilot flew two of them from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to the company’s facilities south of Billings, Montana near the Yellowstone River. Two of the company’s CH-47Ds are on federal contract through April 30, 2017.

chinook water bucket
The data plate on the water bucket used by the Chinook.

Anything you do with aircraft is expensive. Mr. Blain said they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska.

K-MAX custer airport
A Central Copters K-MAX at Custer Airport, April, 3 2016. N115.

We have seen that K-MAX paint job before, but it was on a different K-MAX operated by Central Copters, N414.

When the Chinook arrived at Custer, some of the cargo that was unloaded is in this photo. Can you guess what it was? Let us know in a comment.

Cargo unloaded from the Chinook upon arrival at Custer.

Two killed when helicopter crashes while working on a prescribed fire in Mississippi

(UPDATED at 9:55 a.m. CDT, March 31, 2015)

A helicopter crashed in southern Mississippi on March 30, 2015, killing two people who were working on a prescribed fire. Mario Rossilli, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said one of the deceased worked for the USFS and the other was the pilot of the helicopter under contract with the USFS. The person that was injured was also a USFS employee. Their names have not been released.

This video has a little more information than the one we posted on Monday.

WLOX.com – The News for South Mississippi


Originally published at 9:03 p.m. CDT, March 30, 2015 Two people were killed and one was injured March 30 when a helicopter crashed while working on a prescribed fire on the Desoto National Forest in southern Mississippi. Below is an excerpt from NBC news: 

The helicopter, a Bell 206L-1, went down about 3 p.m. (4 p.m. ET) near Saucier, about 25 miles northwest of Biloxi, the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed. The NTSB said it would lead the investigation. “We do have two confirmed fatalities,” Harrison County Fire Chief Pat Sullivan told reporters. The third crew member was airlifted to the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile, he said. The men were contract workers who were monitoring a controlled burn of about 800 acres in De Soto National Forest, authorities said.

  From WLOX:

An eyewitness told WLOX News he saw the chopper working the fire, and could tell something didn’t seem right. “The helicopter was circling around the fire and within the next couple of minutes I saw it. It was landing on purpose, but it sounded like a little maybe in distress. But then shortly there after a rescue came in and was wanting to know how to get back there,” said Earnest Richardson Junior. “You could tell something was wrong at the end of it, but I didn’t know it was that bad. It kinda looked like he was almost landing for a minute. But like I said, I’m not sure because it circled around the fire. I thought maybe he was trying to land.”

Our sincere condolences go out to their families and co-workers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kevin.

Montana rancher integrates helicopter into his operation

Gathering cattle with a helicopter
Gathering cattle with a helicopter in Montana. Photo by Kari Greer.

This is not a fire aviation story, but it involves a Bell 206-L4 and a photographer who is well known in the wildland fire community.

Vertical Magazine has an interesting article about a Montana rancher who flies a helicopter as part of his regular ranch activities, at times doing things that would normally be done by a cowboy on a horse. One of the best things about the article is that it has 14 photos taken by Kari Greer who spends her summers on the fireline with firefighters, taking great photos. Examples of her work can be found at Wildfire Today.

Here is how the article begins:

Loretta Lynn once sang, “There’s a built-in troublemaker in every man.” That may or may not be true. But there is undeniably a built-in troublemaker in every cow, and on this bluebird May day in west-central Montana, the troublemaker is acting up in the black heifer who is darting in and out of view through the chin bubble in Bill Galt’s Bell 206L4 LongRanger helicopter.

I’m riding along in the left seat; Galt is in the right, using his L4 to urge a dozen cow-calf pairs toward a crossing of swampy, overgrown Birch Creek. Or trying to. Every time Galt gets the bunch moving in the right direction, the unruly “dry” heifer, who doesn’t have a calf to slow her down, leads them off in a wrong one. Thirty feet above the ground, Galt is doing his best to head her off, maneuvering the LongRanger back and forth like a particularly quick and nimble cowhorse. Reinforcements soon arrive in the form of Galt’s nephew’s wife, Tanya Hill, on an actual horse, but the heifer only redoubles her efforts to evade us…