Maintenance and operation of air ambulance certain to be examined in Lake Michigan crash tragedy

Investigators looking into the fatal crash into Lake Michigan of an air ambulance jet will certainly want to examine the maintenance records of the Cessna 550 in light of reports that the pilot radioed a problem with a runaway trim prior to the crash. Trim was an issue in the crash of a Cessna 525 in Washington State in 2002. No one died in the 2002 accident but as a result the FAA mandated changes to that model airplane two years ago. Like the Cessna 550, the Cessna 525 is a twin-engine business jet, but is a different Cessna model from the air ambulance that crashed.

Four men and two pilots were killed shortly after taking off from Milwaukee to deliver organs to a patient awaiting a transplant at the University of Michigan in Detroit.

"This accident brings together two important air safety concerns, the disproportionately large number of fatal accidents in emergency medical aviation and the complicated operational links in chartered aircraft," said Justin Green a helicopter and fixed-wing pilot and aviation attorney with Kreindler & Kreindler in New York. Mr. Green is also the author of the 2006 article on hazards in medical aviation, When Rescue Is Too Risky.

Because the ambulance that crashed was owned by one entity, flown by another on behalf of third, (the medical center), oversight of maintenance will have to be examined.

The 16-year old Cessna 550 jet was owned by Toy Air, a Michigan company but was offered for lease by Marlin Air an FAA authorized air ambulance operation also in Michigan. FAA regulations require that Marlin Air be in control of all aspects of the aircraft from its maintenance to its pilots to the decisions to take or decline a flight.

In the past few years the FAA has grown increasingly concerned about authorized operators using aircraft, personnel and maintenance facilities not under their own control and new rules were established to address the issue.

"It is still too early to determine what caused the tragic deaths of six highly trained men on a flight designed to save lives," said Brian Alexander, a pilot and partner with Kreindler & Kreindler, "but the accident in Milwaukee should refocus attention on the potential for problems when private planes are leased out for charter flights."