On 11 August, a multiple car accident left 10 people injured on the Vespucio Sur highway in Chile's capital city of Santiago, forcing the road to be closed. One of the wounded, in serious condition, was transferred in a Carabineros helicopter to a healthcare facility. The others, with injuries of varying degrees, were taken, in the middle of a kilometre-long hold up, in ambulances.
The aeromedical emergency and evacuation industry is expanding worldwide. The pandemic, which has caused a collapse in hospital facilities, has also generated a high demand for these services. Added to this is the current pace of urban development, where cities are in a process of permanent growth, which is increasingly rapid and sometimes poorly planned, highlighting a disparity between urban development and the roads that exist in the city, affecting the work of emergency vehicles.
Aeromedical flights have become a fundamental service, not only in the midst of the pandemic, but also necessary in large cities where the speed of travel can make the difference between life and death. In greater Santiago, however, there are only two aeromedical emergency rescue solutions by helicopter from private clinics to face a major emergency. According to Chilean helicopter operator Ecocopter, there is therefore a need to have more aircraft of this type in a city of more than seven million inhabitants and listed as world class.
“Greater Santiago and some areas of the country, such as greater Concepción and greater Valparaíso, urgently need to have aeromedical emergency responses. Having adequate helicopters for the transfer from the emergency site to the hospital is key not only to increase survival rates, but also to reduce sequelae if adequate treatment is given in time,” indicates Dr. José Miguel Zavala, specialist in aviation medicine, aeronautical medical examiner and medical director of Ecocopter.
HEMS is a variant of the medical emergency services in which a helicopter is used to arrive with greater speed at the emergency site. “The main advantage of these aircraft is that they arrive exactly at the emergency site regardless of the terrain or access roads, in addition to not requiring a landing strip, which makes them ideal for this type of situation. In the case of cities with traffic congestion problems, such as Santiago, or towns with scarce or limited communication routes, this type of helicopter provides a fast and efficient alternative. On the other hand, HEMS helicopters are equipped with sophisticated medical instruments, which permits the stabilisation of the patient at the scene of the event and during the flight,”
During the past year, Ecocopter prepared itself with a special infection control capsule enabled for any aircraft in the fleet with all the necessary equipment for the transfer of Covid patients. Its aircraft have a first-rate medical team. In addition to the above, the entire fleet of Ecocopter aircraft has a sanitary resolution issued by the Chilean Ministry of Health, specific for this type of activity, with the aim of providing operational continuity to this important activity.
Operations manager Francisco Diaz comments: “To carry out this type of highly complex transfer, today we have the capacity to have our Airbus AS350 B3 / H125, EC135 and H145 helicopters as HEMS helicopters, since they have the highest standards in the industry to carry out this type of emergency procedure safely, quickly and efficiently. One of the great objectives that we have as a company is to offer the state of Chile and the private sector world-class aeromedical alternatives, giving access and bringing the use of the helicopter closer to the public-private system, hospitals, SAMU, clinics and so on. In short, to the entire population, without this representing a higher cost, clearing the belief that this resource is of high value.”
On a global level, helicopters have revolutionised the concept of assisted evacuation, due to the wide variety of benefits they can offer, their main advantages being the possibility of accessing restricted areas, the speed of transfer and the versatility that this type of aircraft delivery. However, in Chile there is still an urgent need to have more alternatives, such as helicopters with advanced medical systems and planning a collaborative network of aircraft, which save lives and reduce possible consequences of a late rescue by solving one by one a problem that remains ‘in the air’.