FOX47 NEWS - Med Flight Pilot Lacked Instrument Certification

Jeff Angileri
Jan 20, 2009, 11:17 PM

The company that owned and operated the Med Flight helicopter that crashed near La Crosse last year says the pilot wasn't certified to fly the chopper using only cockpit instruments.

Denver-based Air Methods bought Med Flight in October of 2007, seven months before the crash.

With a new company running the operation, all of the pilots had to be re-certified, even if they'd gone thru the training before.

When pilots take to the skies, they're trained to fly two ways.

Visual flight rules or VFR, when the weather is good, and pilots can see the horizon clearly out of their cockpits.

The other is instrument flight rules or IFR, when the weather is bad.

IFRs are designed to make sure you don't hit anything you're not able to see and avoid when the visibility is restricted, said Jeff Baum, Wisconsin Aviation President.

On the night of the Med Flight crash, the La Crosse airport reported light rain, and eight mile visibility -- conditions in which some pilots would have used instruments to navigate thru the foggy weather.

Even though pilot, Steve Lipperer -- who died in the crash -- wasn't certified, he was an experienced pilot. He flew with Med Flight for nine years, and his company says he still had plenty of instrument practice.

He did very well in training, was a very astute, professional pilot -- no concerns with his qualifications and capabilities, said Brian Foster, Operations Director of Air Methods.

I'm sure that Steve was a good pilot, well qualified, said Baum. It was more a paperwork exercise than whether he was really qualified.

Besides, the company says, they rarely use instrument-only flying -- it accounts for only 20 percent of their operations, because helicopters have limitations.

Helicopters can't fly in icy conditions -- the range on the helicopters is not as far as an airplane, said Foster.

In an emergency situation, the pilot could have switched-over to instrument-only flying if he felt it was safer, even though he was not actually certified by his current company to fly that way.

Along with pilot Steve Lipperer, UW doctor Darren Bean, and nurse Mark Coyne died in the crash.

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