Hopefully you are never in a position that you have to evacuate one of your part members from the outdoors that can’t get themselves out due to illness or injury. It is a pretty stressful position to be in. While you can carry somebody a small distance it really isn’t a real option for distances over a kilometre or two.
Helicopters have become an important part of patient transport over recent
years. They have often improved the outcome of some otherwise dire
situations. However it is important that we don’t place too much reliance on
.....as they are not always available due to weather, communications or
other problems and other methods of transportation must be utilised.
Unless you are prepared to pay the bill, all helicopter callouts need to be
processed through the ambulance (111) system. If you do get a helicopter sent to your aid it is helpful if you are aware of the safety procedures you must use with these versatile machines.
If you are the person calling the helicopter, remember that the pilot may be
relying on your observations of the weather. You should take an accurate
assessment of the visibility and wind conditions. It is important to be specific
and be aware that helicopters can only operate in good visibility, will not be
able to reach you in total cloud cover and can only operate in a limited
capacity at night when the pilot has good visibility.
Another thing to consider is the terrain you are in. Helicopters need a reasonable area of pretty flat ground to land in. You may need to move the patient that the helicopter can access. You will need a flat area of about 30 meters diameter. If this is not available, look for a prominent rock or something that could be used as a platform for a hover load. Sometimes this is the only option in a river gorge or mountainous terrain. If you have to load the helicopter when it is hovering do so gently without any
sudden moves as this may destabilise the machine.
If none of these options are available a long-line or winch extraction may be possible. It is really important to let ambulance control know this as soon as possible. The helicopters do not necessarily carry this equipment as matter of course.
The most experienced person should be in charge of the group management
around the helicopter.
All loose items must be secured. This includes hats, gloves, jackets, plastic
bags etc. These can fly into the rotor causing damage and may affect the
airworthiness of the machine.
The group should be in a group bunched together remaining low to the ground
when the aircraft approaches. They should remain in place and let the
machine come to them. The pilot can usually land right beside a group
depending on the terrain and weather conditions.
Wait for a signal from the pilot or crew before approaching the machine.
Crouch down when walking under the rotor – especially where working on sloping ground and you are on the uphill side.
NEVER WALK AROUND THE REAR OF A HELICOPTER. The tail rotor is
extremely hard to see and dangerous. You should only approach where you
are visible to the pilot or crew.
Mostly the crew will work the doors but if you are required to do this be very gently with the door operating mechanisms. These are very delicate
and expensive. If you are forcing the door you are doing it wrong.
Carry all equipment below your waist. It’s amazing how many skis have gone into rotor blades by people holding them vertically approaching the machine.
Put on a headset (if available) to communicate with the pilot and crew. These
have voice-activated microphones so there is no transmission button to push
The key piece of advice to remember when working with helicopters if not to panic and rush. It can be pretty overwhelming when they arrive and they are really expensive to operate but the best thing to do is just to slow it down and make sure you and your team stay safe.
Finally you should always have Plan B in the background. Keep it in the back of your mind that the helicopter may not make it for any range of reasons. Have a plan B if this happens.