Improving Safety for our First Responders

By Debbie Hersman

NMSP Helicopter

This week the Board met to consider the June 9, 2009, crash involving a New Mexico State Police (NMSP) helicopter conducting a search and rescue mission outside Santa Fe. The pilot and the lost hiker who was rescued both died and the spotter was injured in the accident. The investigation determined the pilot made inappropriate decisions in an increasingly risky situation. Just as importantly, the investigation uncovered an organizational culture that failed to prioritize safety over accomplishing the mission and permitted unnecessary risk.

That accident was two years ago. Since then the NMSP and its personnel have persevered through a difficult and trying time, responding positively to the lessons learned from this tragedy, and making many changes to improve their procedures and culture.

Here are some of the improvements NMSP has already made:

  • Incorporating the Airborne Law Enforcement Association standards
  • Implementing a Safety Management System approach to operations
  • Equipping their new helicopter with improved radios and flight tracking equipment
  • Instituting a Tactical Flight Officer program
  • Increasing pilot staffing
  • Equipping their aircrew with survival vests and personal locator beacons

And the list goes on. I commend the leadership and staff of the NMSP for their responsiveness and commitment to embrace these necessary changes.  I hope that the lessons learned from this accident are recognized by others that conduct similar operations.  At the NTSB, we recognize the important work of search and rescue teams across the nation — our goal is to make sure that everyone gets back safely, especially the men and women charged with conducting these important missions.

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