Patient Weight a Concern on Medical Helicopters

Lexington, VA - The Carilion Clinic Life Guard crew says patient weight is a consideration when it comes to safely flying on its air ambulance helicopters.

Recently a patient weighing more than 400 pounds was turned down by a medical helicopter crew in New Mexico.

On a hot day, the pilot of Life Guard 12 says he would likely need to burn off fuel to reduce weight, if flying a patient weighing 280 pounds or more. It's harder to fly in hot weather, than on a cool, crisp day.

Excess weight puts a strain on the helicopter. Life Guard 12 has a maximum gross weight limit of 6,402 pounds. That includes the helicopter, crew, gear, and patient.

"We pretty much travel with the bare minimum, what we're required to fly with," said pilot Brad Ervin. "It's not like we can just leave a bag or leave something behind."

Patient size also matters. The medical crew must be able to safely load a patient through the helicopter's back door.

The Life Guard crew members started an exercise program to reduce on board weight. They've lost so much weight collectively, there are no longer restrictions on which crew members can be paired together on the same flight.

Life Guard says only one patient could not fly because of weight in the last year. That's among all three helicopters. The flight crew treated that patient in a ground ambulance.

Centra does not have specific numbers, but says there have been cases of patients who could not safely fly on Centra One because of weight. Those patients were also treated by the flight crew in a ground ambulance.