The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has published a report into a fatal accident at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, where members of the public were subjected to high levels of downwash from the approach and landing of a search and rescue helicopter.
One person suffered fatal injuries and another was seriously injured. Safety recommendations have been made as a result of the investigation.
The AAIB said the helicopter, G-MCGY, was engaged on a search and rescue mission to extract a casualty near Tintagel, Cornwall and fly them to hospital for emergency treatment.
The helicopter flew to Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, which has a Helicopter Landing Site (HLS) located in a secured area within one of its public car parks.
During the approach and landing, several members of the public in the car park were subjected to high levels of downwash from the landing helicopter. One person suffered fatal injuries and another was seriously injured.
The investigation identified two causal factors for this accident:
The first was that people that suffered fatal and serious injuries were blown over by high levels of downwash from a landing helicopter when in publicly accessible locations near the Helicopter Landing Site.
The second was that whilst helicopters were landing or taking off, uninvolved persons were not prevented from being present in the area around Derriford Hospital’s Helicopter Landing Site that was subject to high levels of downwash.
Following the accident, safety action was taken by the helicopter operator, Derriford Hospital and NHS England Estates to control and mitigate the risk.
Additional action by Derriford Hospital and NHS England Estates to improve safety is either planned or in progress.
In total, nine safety recommendations have been made to address these issues.
Crispin Orr, chief inspector of air accidents said: “This was an unusual and distressing accident in which an aircraft undertaking a mission to save life, sadly also resulted in the death of an uninvolved person and serious injury to another, who were blown over by high levels of downwash from a landing helicopter.
“Our in-depth investigation revealed systemic safety issues around the design and operation of hospital helicopter landing sites which need to be addressed at a national level. Helicopters used for search, rescue and emergency medical services play a vital role, but it is essential that the risks associated with helicopter downwash are understood and well-managed.
“The investigation has raised awareness of this issue and been a catalyst for important safety action, which has been taken to mitigate the immediate risk. In addition, nine recommendations have been made in this report to help improve coordination between the aviation and NHS stakeholders, to ensure the protection of uninvolved persons from helicopter operations at hospital helicopter landing sites across the UK.”