updated 7/18/2005 4:47:39 AM ET 2005-07-18T08:47:39

Pilot errors, industry carelessness and poor government oversight have combined to drive the number of air ambulance crashes to record levels, USA Today reported.

Sixty people have died in 84 crashes since 2000 — more than double the number of crashes during the previous five years, the newspaper said in Monday editions.

Its study found that more than 10 percent of the U.S. air ambulance helicopter fleet crashed during that time, a proportion that would have translated to 90 jetliner crashes if applied to commercial airlines.

About two-thirds of the fatal crashes occurred in poor visibility.

After reviewing hundreds of pages of documents and interviewing dozens of pilots, aviation experts, federal officials and executives with the companies that operate the flights, USA Today concluded that air ambulance companies and the Federal Aviation Administration have failed to imposed safety requirements that might have saved lives.

It also cited a 2002 study in The Journal of Trauma that found helicopters were used “excessively” for patients who weren’t severely injured.

But the newspaper also noted that industry leaders cite other studies to show that thousands of lives are saved each year by speedy flights to hospitals. It pointed out, as well, that pilots operate in challenging situations, such as having to land on hospital roofs and being summoned on live-and-death missions to rural accident scenes despite darkness or bad weather.

“I don’t know anybody in this industry who isn’t dedicated to safety and dedicated to what we do,” Ron Fergie, president of the National EMS Pilots Association, told USA Today.

“Most of the accidents will say ’pilot error.’ It’s not so simple, really,” said Eileen Frazer, executive director of the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems, which conducts safety audits of air ambulance firms. “There are all sorts of extenuating circumstances.”

“We take this very seriously,” Jim Ballough, who oversees the FAA’s safety efforts, was quoted as saying. “The public will see change.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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