The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released its final report into a fatal helicopter rescue winching accident where a patient slipped out of a rescue strop device while being winched on board.
The tragic accident occurred on August 31 2013 while the rescue crew of Bell 412EP VH-VAS, call signed HEMS 5, was retrieving an injured 65 year-old male bushwalker from a confined area in the hills near Mansfield, in northern Victoria.
During the double-lift extraction, an ambulance paramedic, wearing a separate full-body harness, accompanied the patient up to the helicopter about 80ft (24m) above. As the pair reached the helicopter’s skids, the patient began to slip from the rescue strop, and despite restraining attempts by the paramedic and winch operator, the patient slipped out of the strop and fell to the ground.
The ATSB report, published on Tuesday, said the patient probably lost consciousness during the winch operation. Combined with the compressive posture of the rescue strop, the patient’s weight and pre-existing medical conditions, the strop was not suitable for the patient and contributed the fall. The ATSB also noted the operator, Australian Helicopters, and service provider, Air Ambulance Victoria, had limited documented guidance to assist rescue crews with selecting the most appropriate winching equipment.
Australian Helicopters and Air Ambulance Victoria have since introduced a seat-type harness for patient winching operations from confined areas and issued guidance to their crews on the order of priority for using rescue equipment during overland winch operations.
The ATSB said helicopter operators carrying out winching operations should take note of the circumstances of this accident and consider the size, weight and medical condition of the person being winched, which may indicate other recovery options to reduce the risk of slipping out of a rescue strop.