TULLAHOMA, Tenn. — Victims of serious accident or illness too often die because bad weather prohibits their transport by helicopter to special care, a researcher at the University of Tennessee Space Institute said Wednesday.
Dr. Ralph Kimberlin, a professor of aviation systems at UTSI, said helicopters equipped for bad weather flying and a network of helipads for landing would save lives.
Kimberlin and others at UTSI have proposed such a rescue system to U.S. Rep. John Duncan, chair of the House subcommittee on aviation.
”The key is getting the patient quickly to specialized care,” Kimberlin said. ”It’s called the ‘Golden Hour’ because if a patient receives care in that time, the chances of recovery are very good. Any longer, and the chances go down in intervals of about every 15 minutes.”
The system would be tested first in Middle and East Tennessee, transporting critical patients to major medical centers in Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville.
”We want to create a network of helipads so no one would have to be transported more than 25 miles to reach one,” Kimberlin said. ”Instrumentation would use satellite technology so pilots would always know their location.”
Because terrain in the area ranges from lowlands to mountains, a system developed here should work well in other regions of the country, Kimberlin said.
Another advantage is that three medical helicopter services already are operating in the area and all use aircraft equipped to find their locations by satellite.
”Other than the helipads and lighting for them, the only ground equipment we need would be for communications,” Kimberlin said.
Kimberlin and other UTSI researchers developed a new helipad lighting array used at the Olympics in Atlanta and, since then, at the presidential retreat, Camp David.
The lights are green-blue in contrast to lighting that is usually amber and white.
”We picked colors in the middle of the spectrum where the human eye sees best,” Kimberlin said. ”Pilots like it because the array is easy to pick out from other lights.”
A measure to provide funding for the system has been written into legislation that continues the Federal Aviation Administration, Kimberlin said.
”We don’t know the exact timetable, but we would like to have a portion of the system operating here in the next year or two, and eventually nationwide,” Kimberlin said.