Physician questions single-engine helicopters after crash

HAZELHURST — It may be months before federal investigators determine what caused a deadly medical helicopter crash in northern Wisconsin last month.

The Ascension Spirit 2 flight crashed April 26 in Hazelhurst, killing three crew members, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The Eurocopter AS 350 was provided by Air Methods

The single-engine helicopter clipped a 70-foot tree and crashed in a wooded area, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Helicopter crash near Hazelhurst, Wis

Single-engine helicopters shouldn't be used for medical transport, said Dr. Michael Abernethy, the chief flight physician of UW Health Med Flight in Madison. Instead, operations should be using twin-engine models, he said.

"Redundancy. In the event of an engine failure, you still have a second engine," he said. "If you go to the rest of the developed world, no one uses small, single-engine helicopters. No one."

Only three of the 12 medical helicopters in operation in Wisconsin are single-engine models, Abernethy said.

The reliability of single-engine helicopters is nearly identical to twin-engine helicopters, Air Methods said in a statement. The single-engine helicopters are also equipped with the same safety equipment found in twin-engine helicopters, the company said.

Helicopter crash near Hazelhurst, Wis

"The accident is currently under investigation by the NTSB and FAA, and Air Methods will support their work in every way possible," the statement said.

Ascension Spirit and Air Methods must meet standards set by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems. The safety standards are upgraded every two to three years, said Associate Executive Director Dudley Smith.

"Programs are required to have a safety management system, and then there are also standards in there about what kinds of equipment and things need to be on the vehicles," Smith said. "We're doing everything we can to decrease the likelihood of accidents happening."