Air ambulance under review

Yampa Valley Medical Center launches comprehensive investigation

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The Board of Trustees for Yampa Valley Medical Center will begin a comprehensive review of the hospital's air ambulance program in the wake of a crash that killed the pilot and two hospital employees.

The decision was made at a board meeting Thursday. The hospital issued a release Sunday stating that the air ambulance program is on hold until the review is complete.

"We remain committed to providing patients with high quality medical care," said Karl Gills, the hospital's chief executive officer. "That includes getting patients transported to another hospital rapidly and safely. If a patient requires transfer to a specialty center, we will facilitate that happening."

Since the air ambulance crashed Jan. 11, five patients have been transferred by air to other facilities, the hospital reported. YVMC uses helicopters or fixed-wind aircraft based in other communities for the transports. The method adds time to the transport because the aircraft first must be flown to Steamboat Springs.

"We recognize the additional time factor is not ideal; however, we believe this is the best interim plan," Gills said.

The Yampa Valley Air Ambulance was en route to Rawlins, Wyo., to pick up and transport a patient to Casper when the accident occurred about 2.5 miles north of the Rawlins airport.

Pilot Tim Benway, 35, was killed. Also killed were air ambulance director and flight nurse Dave Linner, 36, and flight nurse Jennifer Wells, 30. The sole survivor of the crash was Tim Baldwin, a 35-year-old emergency medical technician. Baldwin suffered from broken bones and hypothermia and was released from a Fort Collins hospital last week.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. Although the investigation is not complete, the NTSB has reported it appears ice may have contributed to the crash. David Bowling from the NTSB said investigators found clear ice on the wings, tail, landing gear and propellers of the 1978 Beechcraft King Air E-90 turbo prop.

The Yampa Valley Air Ambulance crash is the 12th medical flight crash nationwide in the past year. Thirty-seven people have died in those crashes, prompting an NTSB study of medical flights.

The crash also was the second in less than two years for the Steamboat air ambulance. An ambulance went down in March 2003 near Kremmling. The three people on board, including Linner, walked away from that crash with minor injuries.

Bob Maddox, who had served as chairman of the nonprofit hospital's board of trustees for the past three years, was not involved in Thursday's meeting. Maddox, who owns and operates Mountain Flight Service, resigned from the board to remove the possibility of conflicts of interest in determining the future of the air ambulance.

The Yampa Valley Air Ambulance is a partnership between the hospital and Mountain Flight Service.

The hospital provides the medical flight crew and portable medical supplies and contracts with Mountain Flight Service to provide the plane, the pilot and the fixed supplies in the plane.

The partnership was formed in 2001. Mountain Flight Service has operated an air ambulance since 1994, and Maddox and his wife, Cindy, purchased the company in January 1997.

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