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Air ambulance crash is the first, say experts

The single-engine plane that was carrying a critically-ill patient from Patna to New Delhi and crashed in a residential colony in Faridabad on Wednesday night, killing 10 people, was the “first crash in the history of air ambulances” in India, experts said.

Considered to have “zero mortality rate so far”, air ambulances have been a lifeline for many, particularly those living in far-flung or remote areas where better health facilities are difficult to access.

In the northeast, for instance, air ambulances usually make three to four trips a week. Air ambulances in India also cater to patients in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East looking to travel to India for better healthcare.

“Air ambulances have proved to be very effective in saving lives by reducing the time lost for critically-ill patients in long-distance journey to the tertiary care centre,” Dr Thomas Davis, consultant, emergency medicine at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, New Delhi, told IANS.

“The medium has had zero mortality rate. This turns out to be the first accident in India that happened due to bad weather,” Dr Thomas Davis said, adding that the hospital had been providing the facility for the past seven years.

“The transportation medium has been successful for trauma patients, coma patients, patients with head injuries, cardiac patients and other critically ill patients,” added Dr Thomas Davis.

On Wednesday night, Rahul Raj, 20, who had lapsed into a coma after liver cirrhosis, was being flown from Patna to Apollo Hospitals in New Delhi.

The chartered aircraft hired by the hospital from Air Chartered Services India got caught in bad weather and crashed into a densely populated locality in Faridabad just minutes before it was to land.

Seven people on board the aircraft and three people on the ground died in the tragedy. The air ambulance provider company said weather was the “main reason”.

V Krishnan, president of Delhi-based OSS Air, which provides chopper-services to hospitals, said, “In my memory this should be one of the first as this plane was customised for medical emergency purposes.”

Dr Thomas Davis said, “Corporate hospitals in India do not have any aircraft-ambulance of their own. So, the procedure is to hire it from the service providers who manage the equipment and nurse facility and provide logistical support.”

The cost of such transportations range from Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000 per flying hour, Dr Thomas Davis added.

Although experts said the crash would have no impact on the demand for air ambulances as they were required in “need-based” situations, many felt the patient’s family should be kept informed about the aircraft chosen and doctors accompanying the patient.

“It is important for the patient’s party to finalise details such as technical details of the aircraft and see if the doctors are specialised to treat patients before they sign the agreements proposed by the service provider or the referral hospitals,” Pradeep Gupta, director, Life Savers Ambulance Services, told IANS.

Life Savers Ambulance Services has tied up with private hospitals for domestic and international air ambulance transportation.

“The frequency of such medical air evacuations is four-five patients per week. It depends on the seating configuration of the plane as to how many trained staffers can accompany the patient, but the norm is to have two doctors, one nurse, one attendant and a family member,” Pradeep Gupta said.

Earlier, people were not aware of the facilities. But the demand had grown despite the costs involved. “Families are desperate to save the lives of their loved ones. They sometimes take loans to hire our services. These air ambulances are the improved ones with better equipments and advanced facilities,” Pradeep Gupta told IANS.

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