A MedFlight helicopter had a bumpy landing at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Friday evening when a piece of tarp covering contruction materials was sucked off the ground and got caught in the chopper’s propeller, forcing it to land partially off the heliport.
Although hospital officials have stopped short of labeling the incident a crash, both the Federal Aviation Association and the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission have been notified and are continuing their investigation.
In the meantime, the owner and operator of the aircraft, Boston MedFlight Critical Care Transport Services, has diverted all medical flights to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
Andrew Frakaf, chief operations manager for Boston MedFlight, said yesterday his company is working with hospital officials to make sure the heliport is entirely safe for future landings.
“Obviously we want to take steps to prevent this from happening again. We see this as an isolated incident, but we have moved the flights to the [Martha’s Vineyard Hospital] as a precautionary measure,” Mr. Frakaf said.
None of the three crew members aboard the helicopter were injured, although the helicopter remained on the site on Friday and Saturday while mechanics inspected it for damage. It was later cleared for flight and is now back in service, Mr. Frakaf said.
FAA spokesman Arlene Salac said the flight was preparing to touch down around 9:15 p.m. when a piece of construction tarp — which apparently was unsecured — got caught in its main rotor. The aircraft, a model MB 117 built by Euro Copter Deutschland and based out of Hanscomb Airforce Base in Concord, was forced to make a quick landing.
“The aircraft landed successfully and by all indications the pilot did not loose control but decided to land the aircraft immediately,” Ms. Salac said.
The heliport at the hospital is framed by Brush Pond on one side and an open construction site on another. The hospital is undergoing a $42 million renovation and expansion project and the entire campus is marked by fencing, vehicles and trenches.
Lisa Maxfield, a seasonal resident of 82 Eastville avenue, which abuts the heliport, said she was home at the time of the landing and noticed something wrong right away. She is familiar with the sounds of the helicopters — as they will land sometimes as many as six or more times near her home — but noticed something sounded different and went outside for a closer look.
“It was coming in at a different angle . . . and then I heard what sounded like the back rotor coming off. It looked the helicopter was out of control and was heading toward the creek. But [the pilot] handled it pretty well because it landed just a bit off the pad. It still landed the wrong way,” she said.
Ms. Maxfield said the hospital construction project has been hard on her and her family. Several trees that previously buffered her house from the heliport were recently taken down, and plans call for a temporary parking lot to be built around her property.
“Sometimes it feels like the hospital is trying to fence us in,” she said. “We tolerate it because we know they are in the business of saving lives, but we also tolerate it because we don’t have a choice. All in all [hospital officials] have been pretty good, but sometimes the whole thing gets frustrating with the helicopters landing and the fences and the demolition. We try out best to be diplomatic.”
While recounting the landing to the Gazette yesterday, one of the hospital buildings near Ms. Maxfield’s home was in the process of being demolished, and later she shared photos of her property strewn with broken tree limbs ripped apart by wind gusts created by the propeller of a powerful Jayhawk helicopter.
“Sometimes those Jayhawks kick up 90-mile-per-hour winds, and if we are entertaining we have to bring everyone inside until it’s gone. But we try not to complain too much because they say its going to bet better . . . we hope it gets better,” she said.