Medevac Helicopter Crash in McFarland, California

The NTSB is investigating the December 10, 2015, crash of a medevac helicopter in McFarland, California. The aircraft was transporting an injured patient to San Joaquin Memorial Hospital in Bakersfield at approximately 7:00 p.m when it impacted hilly terrain. All on board, including the pilot, flight nurse, flight paramedic, and patient were killed.

The aircraft, a Bell 407 helicopter, identification number N408FC, was manufactured in 2000 and is owned by American Airborne EMS. The operator of the aircraft was SkyLife Air Ambulance, a partnership between American Ambulance and Roger's Helicopters, both of Fresno, California.

The NTSB reports that visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the crash and that a company visual flight rules plan was filed for the flight. Witnesses, however, reported heavy rain and dense fog in the area at the time of the crash. No distress call was ever issued by the flight crew.

Citing the dangerous frequency with which emergency helicopter operators send aircraft into deteriorating weather at nighttime, the NTSB has placed "Enhancing Public Helicopter Safety" on its "Most Wanted" safety improvements list.

Although the present crash involved a privately operated helicopter, the same concerns are present here, as the helicopter was providing emergency medical services.

Indeed, once predominately public, the medevac industry is now made up largely of for-profit companies. These companies have large capital investments and are often paid based on the number of flights they complete. This puts pressure on pilots and operators to complete flights despite the presence of potentially fatal risks.

Justin Green, a partner at Kreindler & Kreindler, and a former military helicopter pilot, has written on the need for more safety accountability in the medevac industry.

Green has also litigated against medevac operators in helicopter crash cases. Such cases are factually and legally complex. Air crashes frequently involve multiple, complex causes and several responsible parties. Legal obstacles potentially limiting recovery, such as worker compensation statutes, statutes of repose, and third-party claims, add to the intricacy of such cases.

Kreindler & Kreindler will be monitoring the investigation. If you have any questions regarding the legal or safety implications of this accident, please contact us.