Safety hearings for medevac choppers

The air ambulance system's safety record triggered the hearings. There have been 53 crashes in four years, leaving 77 dead.

More than a thousand times a day, helicopters are dispatched to do jobs once left to ambulances on the road. After the hearings, the rules and guidelines for those air ambulances could change.

/*Los Angeles City Fire Department*/'s helicopter crash in /*Griffith Park*/ in March of 1983 drives home the issue of fatal medevac accidents. Three firefighters and the girl they were rushing to the hospital were killed in the nearly 11-year-old accident.

Emergency medical experts say the majority of the medevac dispatches each day are not life-threatening emergencies. However, with insurance companies paying up to $10,000 per flight, the competition for private business is intense. So, with that high price tag comes pressure to take risks and fly in bad weather.

"Some may say, 'We're in the business to save lives.' But, what they're really in the business to do -- like any other for-profit company -- they're in business to make money," said Robert Sumwalt, /*National Transportation Safety Board*/.

In 2008 there were nine air ambulance crashes, which left 35 dead. The /*NTSB*/ says the number is alarming and unacceptable.

On Tuesday, the NTSB opened four days of hearings to improve medevac helicopter safety.

"I truly believe that we have the ability to save lives," said Dr. Ira Blumen, /*University of Chicago Hospitals*/, at the hearing. "But, unfortunately -- as we have seen -- we also have the ability to take lives."

A fatal crash in Huntsville, Texas may have been a case of helicopter shopping. Another company had turned down the flight for bad weather.

"We recognize that we have a problem with accidents," said Dawn Mancusco, /*Association of Medical Air Services*/. "We're trying our best to make sure that that doesn't happen again."

So far, federal safety recommendations made three years ago have not been implemented. In addition, there is no /*FAA*/ standard requiring night vision goggles and other navigation equipment.

There is also no centralized dispatch system to stop helicopter shopping

The FAA told ABC News that it recognizes some operators are flying beyond the capabilities of their pilots or helicopters and is considering new regulations. But, the NTSB says that the FAA could -- and should -- do more.



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