Stellenbosch - Helicopter pilots will tell you they don’t like landing on a road, largely due to to hazards such as poles, power lines and signs, but now there is a new menace facing emergency response aircrews.
Impatient drivers, who ignore the beaconed-off area or intersection and try to drive around the emergency response helicopter, or who become aggressive towards the paramedics. According to ER24 Gauteng regional manager Gareth Staley, “motorists ignore the road closures all the time”.
Jo Nieman, emergency service liaison at Flightshare, explained: “This puts extra stress on the pilot; they’ll abort the mission if the landing pad isn’t properly prepared or if their safety isn’t guaranteed.
“Motorists also don’t realise that when they ignore a closed intersection they don’t know how big the helicopter actually is. They see us using a quarter of the closed intersection - but that’s because we need the space for safety.
“Some motorists ignore the cones and drive through the closed intersection,” said Nieman, “but they can’t see the spinning blades of the tail rotor. If those blades strike their car, it can throw the helicopter off balance, and that could be catastrophic.”
Helicopter pilots prefer to land on a field close to the scene, but sometimes the road is the only option, if there’s no suitable space at the side of the road due to fences, barriers or uneven ground. Especially at night, they say, the street lights give you better lighting; try to land away from the road on an unlit area and you could hit an obstacle you can’t even see, let alone avoid.
But the biggest hazard in a road landing, insists Nieman, is drivers who simply won’t wait while the paramedics load a critically injured crash victim into the helicopter and take off to get them to hospital.
How would you feel, she asked, if it was you, or a member of your family, on that stretcher? Paramedics don’t call out a helicopter unless it’s a matter of life and death.
No matter how much of a hurry you are in, by sitting back and calling the office to let them know you are going to be late, you are helping to save a life; that’s worth a little patience.