Friday 20 April 2018

Emergency helicopter service for injured patients takes to the skies again

Don Lavery

A SERVICE to fly injured people to hospital from car crashes and other incidents is to relaunched this week - after an earlier attempt failed when a €6.4m helicopter crash landed in a Tipperary field.

The 12 month pilot Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS) operated by the Air Corps after an agreement with the HSE was only weeks in operation when an EC-135 helicopter made a forced landing near Borrisoleigh, Co Tipperary last month.

Luckily the two crew and a HSE paramedic were uninjured after the aircraft apparently hit power lines amid fears that the helicopter, one of two similar types operated by the Air Corps, was badly damaged in the incident.

However the Department of Defence said: “the extent of the damage to the helicopter is currently being assessed following the heavy landing on June 19.

“It is too early to indicate the extent of the damage to the helicopter.”

One aviation expert said a heavy landing could cause stress damage and this meant that the aircraft would have to undergo a thorough examination..

The service had been operated from Custume Barracks, Athlone, and had carried out eleven aeromedical missions.

Two EC-135s were delivered to the Air Corps from Eurocopter at a cost of e12.8m in 2005 and are used for a wide variety of tasks including training and operating with Special Forces.

The Tipperary crash is being investigated by the Air Accident Investigation Unit in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Meanwhile a contingency plan involving a larger Air Corps AW-139 helicopter is to restart the service this week but only operating from Casement aerodrome, Baldonnnel.

The Department is to reconsider using Custume Barracks, Athlone, after a preliminary report from the Air Accident Investigation Unit.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly personally pushed for the provision of the service amid growing discontent from the public and his own backbenchers about continuing cuts in the health service.

Groups, including Air Ambulance Ireland and Lifelight Air Ambulance had proposed air ambulances based on the UK model but these were ruled out favour of using State assets.

The agreement between the two Departments is separate to a 2008 agreement where the Air Corps provides a 24/7 air ambulance service using

AW-139 helicopters and fixed wing planes such as a Learjet or Casa aircraft for inter hospital transfer of patients with serious injuries including to the UK, and for organ retrieval missions.

That separate service is unaffected by the problems experienced by the Emergency Aeromedical Service.

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