EMS Helicopter Fuel Exhaustion

By Richard N. Aarons
Source: Business & Commercial Aviation

The 35-year-old, U.S. Army-trained accident pilot reported for duty on Aug. 26 at 0630, about an hour after he woke up at his layover hotel. The departing night shift pilot briefed the accident pilot on the status of the active helicopter (N101LN) and the status of the accident helicopter (N352LN). Eurocopter N101LN would remain the active EMS helicopter until N362LN was reconfigured. The lead pilot also told the accident pilot that N352LN would have to be refueled once the mechanic completed the changeover.

The accident pilot conducted a preflight inspection of N101LN and signed its daily flight log as required by the Air Methods General Operations Manual (GOM). The helicopter mechanic began to reconfigure the accident helicopter for EMS work at 0700. About 1400, the mechanic told the accident pilot that the reconfiguration work was complete, and together they performed a walk-around inspection so the mechanic could show the pilot what had been done.

Once the walk-around was finished, the flight nurse and flight paramedic prepared the cabin for duty while the pilot transferred his gear and paperwork from the active helicopter to the accident helicopter. The crew had completed the transfer by 1530.

Company procedures required that the pilot perform a preflight inspection including a fuel quantity check before it was returned to service. Examination of the helicopter's daily flight log revealed that the pilot did not sign it as required by the GOM to indicate that he had completed the preflight inspection. The pilot failed to take fuel samples as required by the GOM. The mechanic had made three “conform your aircraft” (CYA) entries in the maintenance log after the reconfiguration operation, but the pilot did not initial the CYA entries as also required by the GOM.

The Air Methods Communication Center (AirCom) received a request at 1719 to transport a patient from Harrison County Community Hospital in Bethany to Liberty Hospital in Liberty, both in Missouri. AirCom notified the pilot at 1720. The pilot accepted the flight.

The helicopter departed about 1728. Two minutes later, the pilot reported by radio to the AirCom communications specialist that the helicopter had departed STJ with 2 hr. of fuel and three persons on board. Thirty minutes later, the helicopter landed at the Harrison County Community Hospital helipad to pick up the patient.

The flight nurse and flight paramedic took their stretcher to the hospital's emergency room to prepare the patient for flight. The pilot stayed in the helicopter and, about 1759, contacted AirCom using his company-provided cell phone. He told the communications specialist that he had realized about halfway through the flight from STJ that the helicopter did not have as much fuel on board as he originally thought. The pilot said he had mistakenly reported the fuel from N101LN, not from the accident helicopter, and that he would have to stop somewhere and obtain fuel.

The communication specialist asked the pilot if he could make it to Liberty Hospital, some 62 nm distant with an estimated time en route of about 34 min. The pilot answered, “That's going to be cutting it pretty close. I'm probably going to need to get fuel before that.”

The communications specialist and pilot determined the only airport with Jet-A fuel along the route of flight to Liberty Hospital was Midwest National Air Center (GPH) in Mosby, about 58 nm away from Harrison and just 4 mi. short of Liberty Hospital. The pilot said, “Fifty-eight nautical miles. So it would save me, save me 4 nm and 2 min. I think that's probably where I'm going to end up going.”

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