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Air-Ambulance Service Once Lost Accreditation

DENVER-- The air-ambulance flight service whose plane crashed Friday in southwestern Colorado, killing three medical workers, previously failed to report accidents and incidents involving its planes to regulators, a federal judge ruled in November 2003.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball found that Eagle Air Med of Blanding, Utah, "falsified" information it presented to the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems, an agency that accredits air-ambulance services.

Kimball said CAMTS acted properly when it withdrew its accreditation of Eagle Air Med in December 2002.

Eileen Frazer, executive director of CAMTS, confirmed Monday that Eagle Air Med failed to report at least nine accidents and incidents to her agency -- including hitting a horse on a runway -- which led to a crackdown in December 2002.

"We asked them to list all the incidents and accidents over the last five years, and that was not done," Frazer said.

Eagle Air Med officials didn't respond to requests to comment on the litigation with CAMTS or the commission s claims that it failed to report incidents and accidents.

Eagle Air fought the loss of accreditation in federal court in Salt Lake City and won a preliminary injunction that allowed it to continue to fly and prohibited CAMTS from withdrawing its accreditation.

But following a trial, Kimball said the agency acted properly in withdrawing accreditation.

The company was without CAMTS accreditation between November 2003 and July 2004, when it was reaccredited, Frazer said.

She said CAMTS is looking into the latest crash.

Frazer said that so far this year, there have been four fatal crashes involving fixed-wing air ambulances involving four air-ambulance services in Great Falls, Mont.; Fairacres, N.M.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and now the one near Alamosa.

"It is really upsetting to us because these were all accredited programs (by CAMTS)," Frazer said.

"We don't automatically take away accreditation because of a crash," she added. "We see what they are doing about it."

Frazer stressed that she has no idea what caused Friday s crash and will not speculate.

Eagle Air Med identified the dead pilot as Ric Miller , 46, of Wenatchee, Wash., who the company said had never had an accident, incident or violation in his 22 years of flying. Also killed were flight paramedic Dana Dedman, 32, of Chinle, Ariz., and flight nurse Ronnie Helton Jr., 25, of Southside, Ala.

Patty Smith, Helton's mother, said this was only the second shift her son had worked for Eagle Air Med. A 2004 graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he had worked in hospitals in Birmingham; Baltimore; Tampa, Fla.; and the U.S. Virgin Islands before taking the Eagle Air job, she said.

"He was very happy with his job," Patty Smith said. "He loved helping people. Ronnie had this special gift of touching people s lives. He died doing something he loved."

Howard Pankratz: 303-954-1939 or hpankratz@denverpost.com

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