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Staying safe in transport

Recently it seems as though an onslaught of airplane and helicopter accidents have flooded media airways. More recently and closest to home are the deaths of the Crump family, Bobby, Jan and Matthew, and Lauren Brue when their plane crashed in Jasper.

Tragic aviation fatalities lead citizens to wonder about the safety of hospital helicopters and commercial flights.

Air Evac, an EMT hospital transit company with a base in Wetumpka, carries seriously ill or injured patients to nearby hospitals for treatment in Clanton.

Air Evac’s director of public relations Julie Heavrin said officials of the company meet every time an accident of great caliber happens. The officials review policies and procedures to make certain that accidents of the same nature don’t happen to the patients Air Evac transports.

“Our company places extreme importance on safety,” Heavrin said. “We have created a safety culture, and want our patients to know we are doing everything possible [to promote safety].”

The National Transportation Board’s Office of Aviation Safety reports four midair collisions with a total of eight fatalities resulting from the collisions for 2008 as of May. Last year, only three midair collisions were reported with three fatalities.

While midair collisions are up, general aviation accidents were lower for 2008 than in 2007 with only 546 accidents to 577 respectively.

The Federal Aviation Association works alongside hospital transport companies to improve procedures and policies within the systems. The association monitors the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service, and promotes risk management training and better training for night operators.

Kathleen Bergen, FAA spokesperson for the Southeastern states, said, “The FAA works very closely with the hospital transit companies to enhance safety. [The FAA] recommends new safety procedures to the companies.”

Chilton County Airport is also reevaluating and making some changes to enhance the airport and its safety.

Billy Singleton of the Chilton Airport Authority said the airport has been purchasing nearby land in order to clear obstructive trees. He estimates the project will be finished in 12 to 18 months and is 80 to 90-percent complete.

The airport authority has also developed an emergency response plan. The plan will better the airport’s ability to respond to accidents and medical emergencies.

After these initial changes, Singleton said the authority plans to make some infrastructure improvements.

Ken Gilliland of B& G Flying Service said nearly 60 to 70 percent of air traffic at the airport is federal, medical, state or corporate.

“The big picture is to have a nice airport to draw in more businesses,” Gilliland said of the updates. “If we didn’t have this facility, we might not have some of the businesses here.”