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Second crash in 3 weeks for an EC-135 helicopter

POTTSVILLE, Pa. -- The Lehigh Valley Hospital MedEvac helicopter that crashed Friday in Pottsville was the second accident involving a Eurocopter EC-135 in the last three weeks, but the contractor that owned both aircraft doesn't believe the two incidents are linked.

In Friday's crash, three unidentified crew members were the only ones on board the helicopter when it went down immediately after takeoff around 9 p.m. from the Muzzuca Heliport in Pottsville. All three men survived, but were treated for injuries at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest and released. The helicopter was owned by contractor Air Methods Corporation of Englewood, Colo., and the pilot was the company's employee, said LVH spokeswoman Amy Fatkofsky.

On May 10, according to published newspaper reports, another Air Methods EC-135 crashed about five miles outside La Crosse, Wis., after delivering a patient about 11 p.m. That crash killed the three crew aboard.

"We have no reason to believe they are interrelated," Air Methods spokesman Craig Yale said Sunday. "We have looked at that."

According to media reports, the two crashes in May were at least the third and fourth worldwide involving an EC-135 in the last nine months. An EC-135 crash in September last year in Great Britain did not harm anyone, but another crashed in Japan in December, killing the pilot.

There have been three crashes -- two of them fatal, counting the Wisconsin crash -- involving that model owned and operated by Air Methods since January 2005. That year an Air Methods EC-135 crashed in Washington, D.C., killing two people on board.

Yale said the aircraft that went down this month were both in service for less than a year. He acknowledged a general rise in the number of accidents involving medicalhelicopters in the United States in the last several years, but said the tremendous increase in flights and the popularity of the EC-135 model were important factors.

"The EC-135 is becoming one of the most common helicopters in the U.S.," he said. "One of the reasons you're seeing more accidents is because there are just more of them flying. The EC-135 has actually been a very reliable aircraft for us. If we thought there was some issue or defect we would obviously not still be flying them."

Yale said Air Methods operates about 340 aircraft in 42 states, all but a dozen of them helicopters, making the company one of the largest nonmilitary operators of helicopters in the world. All of the company's helicopters are used for medical flights with a company pilot.

Yale said Air Methods requires new pilots to have at least 2,000 hours of flight time when they are hired, and all pilots are routinely tested for drugs and alcohol as required by the FAA. He said the pilot in the LVH accident was a 55-year-old man who had been flying for the company since 1985 and had 7,000 hours of flight experience.

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