Expedition & Wilderness Medicine faculty member Dr John Ellerton discusses in the BMJ mountainside helicopter evacuation capabilties.
Objectives. To determine how far mountain rescue casualties in the UK have to be carried and the impact of adding a hoist or ‘long-line’ to helicopters operating in this environment.
Design Retrospective analysis of mountain rescue incidents.
Setting. Pre-hospital, mountain rescue service based in Patterdale, English Lake District.
Participants. Casualties between 1 January 2006 and 31 December 2008 that required stretcher evacuation. Casualties directly accessible by a road ambulance were excluded.
Main outcome. The horizontal and vertical distance of the evacuation route to an agreed helicopter-landing site, and its technical character. Direct access to the incident site by a helicopter with a hoist or long-line capability was determined.
Results. 119 casualties were identified. The median horizontal and vertical evacuation distances were 250 m and 30 m respectively. The proposed manual carrying distances were #100 m in 33/119 (28%), between 101 and 400 m in 60/119 (50%) and >400 m in 26/119 (22%) of casualties. 13/119 (11%) casualties were in a position where direct access to the incident site would not have been possible with a helicopter equipped with a hoist or long-line. 31/119 (26%) casualties required a technical evacuation with the use of ropes.
Conclusions. Using the criteria that all casualties requiring a technical rescue or >400 m evacuation route to an appropriate helicopter-landing site, 34% of casualties could have been rescued using a hoist or long-line with an expected reduction in the pre-hospital time. Helicopters working in UK mountain rescue should be equipped to international standards.
Ref. Ellerton J, Gilbert H. Emerg Med J (2010). doi:10.1136/emj.2010.105403