CUMBERLAND, Maine— A LifeFlight helicopter returning to a Lewiston hospital on the 17th of April made a precautionary landing in a field off Winn and Cross Roads in Cumberland. There were no patients on board, and the pilot elected to make the unscheduled landing as a safety precaution after a master caution light illuminated indicating a problem with an engine. The landing was made without incident and there was no damage to the helicopter.
All LifeFlight helicopters are twin engine with extensive redundant safety systems. The helicopter involved was a back-up helicopter provided by ERA Helicopters, LifeFlight’s aviation vendor. LifeFlight has been operating the back-up while one of its primary helicopters is undergoing an extensive scheduled inspection, overhaul and upgrade of new avionics to improve safety. Once the pilot had determined an unexplained potential engine problem, he notified the air traffic control tower at Portland International Jetport that he was making an unscheduled precautionary landing. The crew spotted the farm field in Cumberland and, once they determined it was a safe landing zone, they set the aircraft down uneventfully.
“LifeFlight operates twin engine helicopters for just this reason,” explained LifeFlight of Maine Executive Director Thomas Judge. “If a pilot receives a warning that something could be wrong, the most conservative safety principle is to not continue forward flight but instead identify the closest spot to safely land the aircraft where it can be inspected and evaluated.”
There are many early warning systems on the aircraft LifeFlight operates, developed specifically to give the pilot time to land the helicopter without incident. All of LifeFlight’s pilots and medical crew complete training which emphasizes how to make careful, thoughtful decisions in situations such as this.
A team from ERA inspected the aircraft and identified an airflow issue to one of the engines. Again, based on safe practice the ERA team replaced the engine and the aircraft was flown to LifeFlight’s hangar at the Lewiston-Auburn Airport where final maintenance and test flights were completed. The aircraft has been scheduled for a complete overhaul.
“LifeFlight is appreciative of the tremendous support from the Public Safety and Fire Departments of Cumberland as well as the family who owned the farm field. We always take safety very seriously and put it first and foremost in our operations,” added Judge. “Each day people from across Maine entrust us with their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Our simple, yet profound, philosophy is that we must always be worthy of that trust.”
LifeFlight of Maine is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit air medical and critical care transport organization. LifeFlight helicopters, flying at 165 miles per hour, bring lifesaving critical care staff and equipment directly to the patient. It also provides advanced emergency medical training to Maine’s hospitals, emergency medical services (EMS) and public safety agencies. Overseen by 21 physicians, LifeFlight cared for more than 1,500 critically ill and injured patients in 2012. Since its inception in 1998, LifeFlight has transported more than 15,000 patients from every hospital and nearly all of Maine’s communities and islands.