Pilot domain task experience in night fatal helicopter emergency medical service accidents

Bryan B. Aherne, Chrystal Zhang, David G. Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


INTRODUCTION: In the United States, accident and fatality rates in helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) operations increase significantly under nighttime environmentally hazardous operational conditions. Other studies have found pilots' total flight hours unrelated to HEMS accident outcomes. Many factors affect pilots' decision making, including their experience. This study seeks to investigate whether pilot domain task experience (DTE) in HEMS plays a role against likelihood of accidents at night when hazardous operational conditions are entered. METHODS: There were 32 flights with single pilot nighttime fatal HEMS accidents between 1995 and 2013 with findings of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and loss of control (LCTRL) due to spatial disorientation (SD) identified. The HEMS DTE of the pilots were compared with industry survey data. RESULTS: Of the pilots, 56% had ≤2 yr of HEMS experience and 9% had .10 yr of HEMS experience. There were 21 (66%) accidents that occurred in non-visual flight rules (VFR) conditions despite all flights being required to be conducted under VFR. There was a statistically significant increase in accident rates in pilots with <2 and <4 yr HEMS DTE and a statistically significant decrease in accident rates in pilots with >10 yr HEMS DTE. CONCLUSION: HEMS DTE plays a preventive role against the likelihood of a night operational accident. Pilots with limited HEMS DTE are more likely to make a poor assessment of hazardous conditions at night, and this will place HEMS flight crew at high risk in the VFR night domain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)550-556
Number of pages7
JournalAerospace Medicine and Human Performance
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Decision-making
  • Expertise
  • HEMS
  • Risk
  • Rotary wing

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