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Survival Flight Ohio
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Communications 256 128, Columbus, OH

NTSB Full Report

COLUMBUS, OHIO — Several former Survival Flight employees voiced operational concerns about the company, according to an NTSB report looking into a helicopter crash that killed three people in January.

Survival Flight was the company operating the helicopter air ambulance from Grove City to a pickup in Pomeroy when it crashed in Zaleski on Jan. 29 of this year, killing a pilot and two nurses on board.

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Two other air ambulance companies turned down the January flight due to weather concerns.

According to several former employees, pilots said they were “scared to fly,” with one nurse saying she believes the pilots were safe, but the company was unsafe.

Employees also said there was pressure to perform, with the vice-president of emergency medical services saying the flight volume for the Columbus base was going to be 150 flights a month. A pilot interviewed by the NTSB considered 30-35 flights per month to be realistically achievable. The fatal flight on Jan. 29 was the 26th flight for the month.

In addition, several employees witnessed management, including the chief pilot, pressure pilots into accepting flights. One pilot described a situation where a colleague was pressured into flying a fourth flight in one day. The colleague told managers he was afraid of fatigue, but management told him to “drink a cup of coffee before you go… and try to get it done.”

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Another person interviewed during the investigation said pilots were not allowed to “go red,” which grounds the helicopters due to weather conditions.

“I’m telling them hey, we’re red. No, you’re not, you guys are amber this evening. Well, no, we’re red because it says right here the weather is below our day/night weather minimum… and they won’t let you be red… this is just a microcosm of some of the issues,” one person told investigators.

One of the nurses killed in the January crash, Rachel Cunningham, wrote the below letter detailing incidents where crews were forced to take flights in unsafe conditions.

All three crew members who died in the January crash were from Ohio: pilot Jennifer Topper, 34, of Sunbury and flight nurses Bradley Haynes, 48, of London, and Cunningham, 33, of Galloway.

An initial NTSB report on the January crash said the Survival Flight helicopter, a Bell 407, made a turn to the right about 15 minutes after takeoff in suburban Columbus Jan. 29, followed by the left turn.


A more detailed explanation of the events leading to this accident are available in the NTSB report ink at the top of this article.

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