An initial report by the ATSB into the incident on August 31 in which a person being rescued by helicopter winch slipped from a harness and died, has recommended helicopter emergency operators carrying out winching operations consider the size, weight and medical condition of the patient to help indicate whether other recovery options offer reduced risk.
Describing the event involving anAir Ambulance Victoria Bell 412EP VH-VAS that lead to the tragic fall, the ATSB said initially the winching procedure during the event appeared to proceed normally. When the paramedic and patient were approximately 30–40ft above the ground, the paramedic came in contact with branches and had to use both hands to fend off as he came through the tree canopy. At about 15ft below the aircraft the aircrewman reported the patient appeared to be moving at which time he stopped the winch for a control check. But shortly after resuming the winch he noticed the patient’s arms were not in the usual position in the strop, but continued winching in order to retrieve the patient. Despite the patient reaching cabin height and the crew’s efforts to arrest the fall, the patient slipped out of the strop and fell to the ground, sustaining fatal injuries.
Following the winching accident all winching operations were suspended involving Air Ambulance Victoria emergency medical service (EMS) helicopters. The suspension remained in place until the results of an interim investigation by the helicopter operator confirmed that an equipment fault did not contribute to the accident. In addition, Air Ambulance Victoria has, in conjunction with its EMS contractors, begun a separate investigation that will examine the availability of suitable alternatives to the current rescue/retrieval strop.
An interim report by Air Ambulance Victoria reinforced the need to critically assess a patient’s physical and medical state and any associated risks before committing to using the rescue/retrieval strop.
The focus of the ongoing ATSB investigation will further examination of the rescue/retrieval strop design and its potential limitations with respect to the weight and physical dimensions of a patient.