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Exposing ignorance about EMS Lifeguard ops, or missing something else?


nbit
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I was on an IFR flight between 2-3AM EST, last Thursday, headed southwest bound, from the Albany, NY area, talking to New York Center. The same controller was also directing a "Lifeguard" chopper flight. I could hear both parties fine, until the controller lost contact with the "Lifeguard" chopper. I was monitoring several New York Center freqs, and guard 121.5. He attempted contact continously on all the frequencies I could hear, and guard as well, for at about 15-20 minutes until I was clear of his area. Is it normal for that to happen during EMS ops? Not knowing much about it... Just curious...

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He might have been too low to hear them. There are areas not more than 50 miles from St. Louis, where I can't talk to Kansas City center or STL approach unless I'm 2500+ AGL--and the elevation is flat as can be around the Midwest.

 

And it's not like we can always pop up a 1000 ft either. Whether it be ceilings, a stronger head wind, or the patient (gotta stay low as possible with head bleeds.) If any of this is going to pose a problem to the flight, we can always just turn it down.

 

That's just a guess....Was he IFR? Maybe he was flying at the MOCA (or is that radio, but no radar?)

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Thanks Delorean,

Good questions... I'm not actually sure if he was IFR, and I can't remember the altitudes he stated being at. He was getting traffic advisories, freq changes, and accepted a heading deviation, then requested to resume his own navigation and got it until the time the controller indicated radio contact was lost. That alone is not enough to tell if he was IFR cause he could have had a VFR clearance code. I guess what concerned me was the despiration I heard in the controller's voice. The person with me and I were concerned that something happened to the "Lifeguard" contact based on the controller's actions with communications, tone of voice, and the ensuing 15-20 minute period over which he tried to re-establish contact.

 

I was wondering if it is a common thing to lose radio contact when you're doing "Lifeguard" ops out to a pickup, before you have the oppurtunity to formally close off communication with a controller you're in contact with. Is it? Have any interesting stories about what happens?

 

Suppose it might be dissimilar in different areas of the country based on the geography maybe. I was on another IFR flight with a stopover in WV about 1:30AM local once last November. An EC135 EMS machine came in after me. While I was fueling up we talked and swapped our helicopter histories, etc.. He mentioned he would go lost comm frequently in the mountainous areas during pickups, but I never thought to discuss it with him in more detail until this experience last Thursday. He had been IFR (it was *very* IFR with obscured terrain) eariler in the evening for a pickup, and was coming in for fuel as well. Not even having to hear it from him, I could imagine he had a demanding evening. He happened to mention he was glad to live through it, and asked if I knew where he could get another job. :P

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We hardly ever talk center or approach. I only do it if I have a long (30+ min) leg and I'm going to be cruising at higher altitudes. And I'm just doing it for traffic advisories in both cases. We're always VFR, and they're usually too busy with IFR traffic to bother with VFR flight following.

 

Otherwise, we're always in contact with our dispatch over higher frequencies or via cellphone. We also have satellite tracking in most aircraft that updates every 5-15 minutes. A few of our helicopters have satellite phones installed in the cockpit and some are experimenting with text messages through satellite enabled PalmPilots.

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Hello Delorean

Am interested in the Palm text how are you gettin on with it ? we use GPS & data for tracking all our fixed assets, using radio as the carrier and are working on Palms for text from our Vcls, + are applying for an air freq for the rotorbirds.

 

Glad to see Reys getting some help in the bandwith cost this site is to good to loose keep the donations going

Edited by 500E
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Our company tested it out in the hurricane relief efforts since we didn't have any company towers in Louisiana and all the other frequencies were packed.

 

I think the Palms had preset messages "on final", "enroute", etc. and you just filled in the fuel, pax, ETA, and it knew the coordinates. Then it text messaged that through the cell phone towers to our communication center. If that didn't work, they used the sat phones @ $20/min. Either way, all the ships were being tracked through the SkyTrac system.

 

I wasn't there but I'll ask around if I run into a crew that was.

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It would have been nice for someone else on freqency (with some altitude) to offer to relay/try to contact. I once lost contact with ATC due to low altitude. I was trying to contact them to cancel flight following (too late) and they were trying to contact me, presumably they lost radar contact. A kindly fixed-wing pilot heard both and relayed the comm. for us.

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It's not unusual for us to lose contact with Center even when IFR. There is virtually no ATC communications in the Gulf of Mexico, and it's even worse since the hurricanes, with no indication the FAA is planning to do anything to improve the service. There are large areas of south Louisiana with no radar service, and communications can be spotty even over land. We sometimes get relays from airliners passing overhead, and if we don't we have to use company communications people to relay to ATC. We use Outerlink, an often have to use that to pass plans, landings, and other messages, as long as it works, and it's often unreliable. Outerlink badly needs improvement, and I don't see that happening either. It seems to give worse service as time goes by, and they don't seem to care all that much.

 

In short, when you're flying a helicopter at low altitudes you're often on your own. The system is set up to take care of fixed-wing aircraft, mostly at flight levels, but certainly near 10,000 ft, not at a few hundred. We're the bastard red-headed step-children of aviation, and that's not likely to change.

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Cross-eyed,

BTW... I tried to relay, on my assigned freq, then guard. The controller gave me the correct freq for the Lifeguard and a second freq to try cause my first attempts were on my assigned freq. My assigned was not the one the Lifeguard flight was assigned. No joy on any of them. I had to return to my first freq, cause it was the freq for the area I was in to stay in touch with NY Center. The leg we were on was to take us through some higher elevations so I am sure we were higher. I'm guessing we were well west of where the Lifeguard guy was and maybe still not high enough to establish contact...

It was around 2:30AM, so there just wasn't anyone else around to talk to I think.

 

Keep the info coming. It is interesting... ....And what I was looking to hear and learn about... Thanks.

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