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MEDSTAR operations cease as part of safety ‘stand down’

By Staff | Jun 22, 2011

At 7 a.m. on June 22, Lee County Emergency Medical Services (LCEMS) implemented a “stand down” of its MEDSTAR flight operations for a safety review.

MEDSTAR will resume operations on Monday, Aug. 1 with its recently acquired Bell 430 helicopter.

“Helicopter service will be available to the residents and visitors of Lee County,” said John Wilson, Lee County Public Safety Director. “We will rely on mutual aid support to assist us during this safety stand down period. Safe operations is our No. 1 priority.”

Bayflite has agreed to relocate one of its helicopters to Fort Myers to provide air support during the LCEMS MEDSTAR safety stand down.

In August 2009, MEDSTAR 1 — an EC 145 helicopter — crashed into the Gulf of Mexico while responding to an incident on Upper Captiva Island. Fortunately, the three crew members survived, but the helicopter was a total loss.

At the time of the incident, it was reported that all three MEDSTAR 1 crew members — pilot Diana Tackett and paramedics Dave Duncan and Jason Ausman — were rescued from the Intracoastal Waterway safely and without serious injury. The crew had been responding to an emergency call on Captiva.

“The pilot and two medics were on top of chopper,” said Bob Kinniry, assistant fire chief for Upper Captiva Fire & Rescue. “They said, ‘We’re covered in fuel. We need to get out of here.'”

Kinniry was one of three responders, which also included volunteers Ed “Zeke” McDonald and Red Anders, to assist with Monday’s water rescue. They were joined by a helicopter team from Hendry County, who transported the downed pilot and paramedics to Lee Memorial Hospital.

MEDSTAR 1, an American Eurocopter EC-145, tail number N911LZ, was in the water just under 24 hours. The helicopter was valued at approximately $5.5 million.

In LCEMS’ efforts to restore flight operations back to a pre-crash level, it was determined that a safety stand down would be the most effective way to review the operation. Personnel, operations and administrative recordkeeping will be assessed.

The safety stand down is a common practice in the airline industry, providing the opportunity for a flight program to review all aspects of its operations. Any areas for improvement will be identified and acted upon accordingly. Expert consultants in the air medical industry will be on site to assist with safety training and perform safety audits.

In addition, crews will be interviewed and provided with additional counseling for any lingering post-crash issues. During this time, flight staff, operations staff, communications staff and administration will gather to conduct focused quality and safety reviews.

The 2002 Bell 430 helicopter will provide MEDSTAR with the opportunity to resume its Part 135 instrument flight rules operation that was suspended when the back-up helicopter went into operation after the crash. All of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) post-crash recommendations were incorporated in the aircraft upgrade of the Bell 430.