Aeromedical health: Helicopter precautions


– The helicopter landing deck and the ship’s hospital will seldom be on the same plane. Plan the way the patient on a scoop stretcher, rigid backboard or basket stretcher will be transported from the helicopter to the sick bay without injury to patient or rescuers.
– Hypothermic patients are not allowed to walk from the helicopter to the ship’s sick bay or any other sick bay for that matter due to circulatory stress phenomenon (CSP). The patients can go into instantaneous cardiac arrest if they attempt walking and the cold blood in their legs instantly enters their central circulation. There may be no deck lifts and hypothermic survivors might have to brought to sick bay down the outside deck stairs, keeping them as horizontal as possible on bucket scoops during the transfer.

– A ship’s deck guide can “marshall” a helicopter onto the landing deck or helicopter landing zone (HLZ) with hand signals. The deck guide (DG) must wear hearing and eye protection and be dressed warmly without loose clothing; with back facing the wind. The helicopter will land into the wind. It will be advantageous if the skipper can get the ship also facing into the wind prior to landing. That will make the positioning of the deck guide easier as the pilot will have more space to manoeuvre. It will also position the helicopter better for quicker storage.
– The deck guide stands in the middle of the HLZ. As soon as the deck guide sees the helicopter, the deck guide puts both hands into the air (in daytime) or both flashlights in his hands pointing into the air (nighttime). As soon as the pilot sees the deck guide, the deck guide moves out of the HLZ into the direction where his back faces the wind.
-The deck guide must be at least five to 10 meters from the HLZ when the helicopter is landing. This is a very dangerous time for the deck guide as there is the risk of him being blown off an unstable rolling deck by the helicopter’s thrust or slipping and falling in wet weather on the deck
– The deck guide holds this “safe to land” signal until the helicopter has landed
– As soon as the deck guide notices a dangerous situation he waves his arms (in daytime) and waves the flashlights in his hands above his head to indicate “not safe to land” or “wave off” signal at night time
– The “wave off” signal is continued till the helicopter is totally away and aborted the landing

Few basic deck signals given by deck guide to helicopter pilot

– No-one is allowed on deck except the deck guide during landing
– The helicopter on the ship’s deck is only approached after the helicopter rotors have stopped and the pilot indicates that the deck group are permitted to load off the “package”
– A safety observer keeps the minimum number of deck group together and ensures that nobody enters into the dangerous rotor area of the helicopter ; this is usually the back 50% of the rotor circumference
– The rotor area of the helicopter has to be avoided because this backside vertical rotor becomes invisible on spinning.

– The helicopter is approached from the sides or from the front in a crouched position
– Helicopters with rear-end loading capabilities are more dangerous due to proximity of the invisible back rotor blade
– Loose clothing is prohibited on landing deck
– Loose headgear is prohibited on the landing deck
– During a “cold load” the deck group only proceeds to off-load the injured once the helicopter’s fixed skids have been strapped down onto the ship’s deck or the tricycle or quadricycle wheels of the helicopter have been secured by stopping blocks around the wheels or strapped down.
– The rotors may also have to be strapped down depending on weather conditions. The rolling of the ship due to the swell can make the helicopter move on the deck, possibly leading to loss of the vehicle and injuries to staff
-There are 2 types of helicopter off-loads; “cold load” where the engine and rotors stop running and “hot load” where the engine and rotors don’t stop running during the off-load
– The “hot load” is more dangerous and the safety observer, deck guide, deck team and patient must all wear eye and ear protection
– The straps that were used to strap the stretcher down to the floor of the helicopter must be untied in order to off-load the injured person
– The “package” must be taken into the sick bay ASAP and checked on whether the following is still in place and functioning; secure airway, neck stabilisation on rigid spine board, 2 large intravenous lines, tube thoracostomies for pneumo- or hemothorax, bladder cathether, nasogastric catheter, Ringers lactate, blood drawn for cross- matching, extremity fracture splinting and field records