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Selection of the preferred landing site is one of the most important components of safe helicopter operations. A site that is too small, filled with debris or obstructed by trees or wires is a recipe for disaster. Careful checks of a site can help speed patient transport by reducing the likelihood of a change in the Landing Zone (LZ) location.
HealthNet Aeromedical Services requires a minimum of 100' x 100' relatively flat area for safe operation. The area must be clear of power lines and overhanging trees. The pilot should be informed of obstacles higher than knee level, such as fence posts, before the aircraft is seen by the ground crew. It is essential that you report any high tension power lines within a one-mile radius of the desired landing area.
For nighttime operations, you must also secure an area at least 100' x 100'. As in daytime operations, the area must be clear of obstructions and debris. It is important to leave all emergency lights on to better mark the area. When the helicopter is near touchdown, these lights, as well as all headlights, should be turned off to preserve the pilot's night vision.
The landing area should be marked with battery-powered lights arranged in a triangle or square. Alternately, low-beam headlights can be crossed to designate the desired landing area. Please remember to never shine spotlights or flashlights directly at the aircraft. It is also important that the landing zone team prevent flash photography or television cameras from being directed at the aircraft or crew.
The LZ Safety Team holds ultimate responsibility for ground operations before the aircraft arrives. It should consist of two experienced people. Their job is to identify and secure the site, provide information on the landing zone to MedCom or the aircraft and to ensure that all remains safe in the area.
Prior to the arrival of the aircraft, the LZ should be checked for debris, and nonessential personnel should be kept 100 feet back from the outer areas of the landing zone. It is preferred that one person be assigned to secure the front of the site while another secures the back.
The LZ Safety Team should observe the area and prevent running, smoking or the loss of hats or loose objects. At the same time the ground team should be protected. Secure clothing and eye and hearing protection are recommended. One of the team members should stand with the wind at his or her back to inform the pilot of the wind direction. In most instances the aircraft will land into the wind.
Before making final approach into an LZ, the pilot will often circle the area to observe the site. In fact, this is often done several times. It may appear as if the aircraft is leaving the area. This is not the case; the pilot is merely flying to assess the site and prepare for approach.
During landing, the LZ Safety Team must ensure that all remains safe on the ground. It is important that you constantly look at the surrounding area and not fixate on the aircraft. Things change at LZ sites. It is the responsibility of the LZ Safety Team to recognize and react to these changes. During final approach, remember to protect the patient, secure all loose equipment and protect your eyes.
When the aircraft has landed, the flight team will exit the aircraft and assess the area. They will then go to the patient's side. No one should approach the aircraft. During this time, the LZ Safety Team must assure that everyone is kept 100' back from the site. During some scene responses, the rotor blades and engines will continue to run. It is essential that no items be thrown or left unsecure in the area of the LZ.
When the patient is ready for transport, the flight team will need assistance loading. Usually, two additional people are required. Anyone assisting must always follow the directions of the flight team. Remember to always approach the aircraft from the front, within full view of the pilot. You should never look at the helicopter from the rear. While loading, no one should go behind the rear skid of the aircraft.
At times the helicopter will land on an uneven surface. If this is the case, you should always approach the aircraft from downhill as the blades are closer to the uphill side. When walking toward the aircraft carry nothing higher than your head. The rotor blades can flex downward during wind gusts and could cause injuries to the ground team. You must respect the helicopter.
Once the patient is loaded, the flight team will operate the aircraft doors. The doors are susceptible to damage, and the aircraft cannot lift off if damage has occurred. During departure the LZ Safety Team should remain alert and radio the aircraft of any problems noted. The LZ should be kept clear until the aircraft is out of sight. The LZ radio frequency should be left open for 3-5 minutes in the unlikely event that the helicopter would need to return to the site.