Systems safety risk analysis of fatal night helicopter emergency medical service accidents

Bryan B. Aherne, Chrystal Zhang, Won Sun Chen, David G. Newman

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4 Citations (Scopus)


INTRODUCTION: In the United States, the proportion of Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) fatal accidents remained unchanged despite an overall decreasing accident rate. Previous research showed night HEMS operations influenced fatal outcomes. Pilots with < 6 yr of HEMS domain task experience (low-DTE) had a higher likelihood of a night operational accident in conditions associated with adverse weather. This study sought to determine whether a difference existed between day and night fatal accident rates and identify influences contributing to night fatal HEMS accidents. Any risk factors identified will be used for a risk analysis to inform future operational safety of the night visual flight rule (VFR) HEMS transport system. METHODS: Historical accident data and industry hours were obtained. Both pilot DTE groups (low and high) and mission VFR and instrument flight rule (IFR) capability were identified using data from 32 night VFR operational fatal HEMS accidents. Accidents were stratified by loss of control and controlled flight into terrain, pilot DTE, and flight rule capability. The effectiveness of both DTE groups and both flight rule capabilities were measured using system safety risk analysis techniques. RESULTS: Night fatal accident rates were statistically different from daytime. Low-DTE pilots and the VFR capability combination had the highest likelihood of night operational nonsurvivable accident. CONCLUSION: Low-DTE pilots and the VFR capability were the least effective mission combination to avoid hazardous conditions at night and maintain spatial orientation, respectively. The analysis identified measures to reduce likelihood of night fatal operational accidents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)396-404
Number of pages9
JournalAerospace Medicine and Human Performance
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Helicopter Emergency Medical Services
  • Night
  • Operational safety
  • Risk
  • Rotary-wing
  • Systems Theoretic Accident Modeling and Processes

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