The National Transportation Safety Board has cleared the way for UNM Hospital to move the PHI medical helicopter that crashed on the hospital's roof Wednesday.
Crews with PHI, the private company that owns the helicopter, on Friday are preparing the aircraft to be lifted by crane, hopefully as early as Saturday morning.
UNM Hospital officials will be meeting Friday afternoon with representatives from PHI, UNM, PNM, the Albuquerque police and fire departments, the crane operator and structural engineers to finalize the move, which may require UNM Hospital and other areas of the university to switch from external to internal power sources for critical facilities.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that when cranes are working near utility lines, that power companies shut down those lines.
"We are carefully planning this move to ensure the operation is safe and done with as little disruption as possible," said UNM Hospital spokesman Billy Sparks.
After plans are finalized Friday, UNM will release more details about the operation, including any possible traffic or power disruptions and the duration of the operation.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration arrived Thursday at UNM Hospital, where a medical helicopter crashed as it attempted to take off from the hospital’s helipad Wednesday evening.
The pilot suffered minor injuries and has been discharged from the hospital. Two other crew members on board were not injured. No patient was on board, and there were no injuries to UNMH patients or employees.
The helicopter remains on its side at the edge of the hospital’s roof, where a team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency worked throughout the night to reinforce four damaged roof joists. Structural engineers, who arrived on the scene shortly after the crash, continue to monitor the site and report that it is structurally safe and stable.
As a precaution, 18 patients on portions of UNMH's fifth and sixth floors directly beneath the helipad were moved to other areas of the hospital. Otherwise, patient care was uninterrupted. Most clinical and administrative hospital operations were back to normal Thursday.
UNMH, the Albuquerque Fire Department and representatives from PHI, the company that owns the helicopter, are working on a plan to remove the helicopter, once the federal officials have completed their site investigation. The removal will require a large crane and the temporary closure of Lomas Blvd. in front of the hospital, but when that will happen has yet to be determined. It may be Friday before the federal agencies wrap up their work, an NTSB investigator said Thursday. Motorists should be prepared for delays in the area.
Wednesday’s accident happened as the helicopter attempted to leave the hospital's Lomas Blvd. helipad at about 5:45 p.m. First responders were on the scene quickly, the hospital's fire suppression system activated immediately and UNM Hospital activated its Emergency Operations Center to respond to the crash.
"Everything worked as it should, and first responders did an amazing job," said UNMH spokesman Billy Sparks. "We are extremely fortunate that no one suffered major injuries and that no patients or employees were injured."
The hospital is accepting all adult patients and pediatric patients with serious traumatic inujuries. Medical helicopters with trauma patients bound for UNMH will be landing at nearby Presbyterian Hospital - those patients can then be transported by ambulance to UNM's trauma center. Other pediatric patients are being diverted to other area hospitals. UNM patient families seeking information are asked to call 505-272-4636.