At approximately 2300 hours, PennCOMM was notified via telephone by
another flight program’s dispatch center that one of their aircraft
was inbound with an interfacility patient to the University of
Pennsylvania Medical Center helipad (12th floor, rooftop pad), with
an approximate ETA of five (5) minutes. The inbound aircraft’s
communication center was immediately informed that the helipad was
occupied by a PennSTAR aircraft which had just completed a mission,
and that the inbound aircraft would need to wait for the PennSTAR
aircraft to depart before landing. The PennSTAR crew immediately
proceeded to the aircraft and began preflight procedures. Perimeter
helipad lighting and rotating beacons were operational however flood
lighting on the pad was turned-off to preserve night vision for the
departing aircraft crew.
The flight nurse, who was standing fire-watch at the 2 O’clock
position, noticed the inbound aircraft’s landing lights approaching
over the city and assumed the aircraft would maintain a safe distance
away. The PennSTAR pilot had completed #1 engine start-up, was
beginning the engine start cycle on the 2nd engine and had all
strobes and anti-collision lights illuminated. The flight nurse
noticed the inbound aircraft approaching, and then crossing the plan
of the helipad. The flight nurse attempted to signal the incomming
aircraft first by waiving arms, then by shining a flashlight into the
cockpit of the approaching aircraft. Simultaneously, the PennSTAR
Communication Technicians attempted radio contact – without success
with the aircraft on both the PennSTAR and Philadelphia aviation radio
frequencies and by rapidly flashing the perimeter helipad lighting.
The inbound aircraft was directly overhead of the PennSTAR aircraft
when they initiated a go-around departure. Post incident mechanical
inspection revealed no damage to the PennSTAR aircraft.
A debriefing of this incident was incident was conducted with the
aviation management of both services and several fundamental
operational mandates were reinforced. The co-pilot of the inbound
aircraft indicated that the reflective tape on the flight nurse’s
helmet was the first indication of a problem and was what prompted
the go-around. This incident reveals several operational
The absolute necessity of establishing radio contact with the
receiving facility. No radio contact was made to PennCOMM from the
The necessity of direct aircraft communications.
The importance of visually confirming a clear pad and establishing
visual references, especially at night, prior to landing.
The importance of reflective markings on uniforms/helmets.
The importance of having a crew-member outside the aircraft during
The quick, decisive actions of the PennSTAR Flight Nurse and
Communication Technicians were instrumental in averting a disaster.